Any student or colleague of St. Louis, Mo. native, Jeff Noonan, professor of music history and classical guitar, knows he is a true musicologist, and he knows what his subject matter. Jeff’s students will tell you he is “one of the most knowledgeable professors they have had and that it is amazing how he can correctly answer almost any question on the spot.”
Much of his knowledge may be contributed to the variety of degrees he holds. He received
bachelor’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame and music-classical
guitar from the prestigious Harrt School of Music at the University of Hartford, in
Hartford, Conn. He then attended Washington University where he received his master’s
degree in music with an emphasis in historical performance practices, and his doctoral
degree in historical musicology.
“My study of music history grew out of my interest in performing historical music, and my study of early music performance grew out of my interest in hearing and placing music in its historical or cultural context,” Jeff said.
When asked why he chose teaching as a career, Jeff responded, “Not sure I chose it exactly. I want to do research, I want to write, and I want to perform odd, old music. The University allows me to pursue some of these things, so a University job is a good fit for me that way. It turns out that I am a good teacher (I've been told that and many of my students have been quite successful in the field), so luckily what I am expected to do here, teach, allows me to do the other things that I like doing such as researching, writing and performing.”
Jeff is in his 10th year at Southeast and his areas of academic interest are early music performance, especially 17th-century ensemble music and song, representation of music and music-making in images (iconography), and reception theory.
“I'd like to think that my classroom style is relaxed but alert,” Jeff said. “But I'm not sitting in the desks, so maybe I'm not like that at all. I move quickly and like to throw ideas and questions out, looking for a receptive set of ears. My philosophy in the classroom is that the class and I are considering some questions together, and I want to share the investigation. Although I can lecture ad infinitum, I prefer to talk a bit and then discuss the material at hand. I really prefer a lively discussion with lots of ideas and questions to anything else.
I enjoy watching my students succeed,” Jeff says. “I've experienced that in reading a particularly good paper, having a particularly good discussion in class or a one-on-one conversation, or hearing a well-played recital. I enjoy working with my colleagues in the arts area and in the College of Liberal Arts and have had great times with them on stage and in discussions.”
Jeff recently released a book, The Guitar in America: Victorian Era to Jazz Age, which is selling well and has gotten very nice reviews in a number of journals and online. In this book, Jeff traces the guitar’s transformation from a refined parlor instrument to a mainstay in jazz and popular music. In the process, he not only introduces musicians (including numerous women guitarists) who led this movement, but also examines new techniques and instruments. This volume opens a new chapter on the guitar in America, considering its cultivated past and documenting how banjoists and mandolinists aligned their instruments to it in an effort to raise social and cultural standing. At the same time, the book considers the banjo, mandolin, and guitar community within America’s larger musical scene, examining its efforts as manifestations of this country’s uneasy coupling of musical art and commerce.
The book is available in St. Louis at Left Bank Books and can be ordered by the Southeast
Bookstore, Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.com. Kent Library and the River Campus
Arts Resource Center also have copies.
Jeff is expecting another book, The Guitar in Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Periodicals, part of Music Library Association's Music Index and Bibliography Series, to be released this December.
“I also have a chapter in a book coming out in 2009 from the University of Chicago Press,” Jeff says. “The book is about the orchestra in 19th-century America, and my chapter is about mandolin, banjo and guitar orchestras and how they attempted to imitate the symphony orchestra. I also have a large article appearing in a French journal on musical iconography. This will be out in 2010 and will deal with iconographical images and representations of music and musicians in the magazines. It will deal with gender, racial and class roles as depicted and represented in illustrations and photos from the magazines.”
Jeff enjoys the time he has to practice and to work on his research. He says he loves
to read and will read almost anything given the time. He says his all time favorite
is James Joyce's "Ulysses," and that he will go back and reread it every other year
or so. Most of his reading right now focuses on his work, but he says he enjoys that.
He says he also enjoys riding his bicycle when he finds the time.
“My wife and I really enjoy good food. My son is a chef, which is a real plus, so we eat out way too much,” he says. “We like trying new recipes and restaurants.”
Jeff also likes to travel and especially enjoys visiting real cosmopolitan areas; Chicago, New York and Boston are special American favorites he says.
“I’ve been all over Europe, Russia and Ukraine. I even heard the Rolling Stones in their first Moscow concert in the 1990s. I’m going to Costa Rica in March. I'd like to see Brazil at some point (I love samba music) and maybe Mexico,” Jeff says. “I like the idea of getting to know one spot very well and would like to put myself somewhere, like Paris or London, for an extended period. I think Italy and Ireland may be my next international travel destinations after Costa Rica.”
Jeff provides the following advice to students: “Number one is to just show up prepared. I mean that in a ‘philosophical’ sense, I guess. Showing up ready to do whatever is at hand, whether it is a job, a class, a concert, an interview, is more than half the battle. Put yourself in a position to succeed. Preparation and showing up are the strongest ways to put yourself on the road to success.”