When Randy Bangs studied in Belgium with Flor Peeters, a well-known composer with a penchant for innovation, he influenced not only her approach to the keyboard but to teaching her future students as well.
“I learned that Beethoven broke all the rules of composition,” says Bangs, “and that he believed that all people should live in peace and harmony.”
Both come into play in Bangs’ teaching philosophy. Whether it’s the piano or the introduction to the arts course, both of which she teaches at Macomb, she regards each student as an individual and each class as a new adventure, deserving of fresh ideas.
“I had one professor at Wayne State who lectured from the same yellowed notes that he had been using for years,” relates Bangs, who has taught at Macomb for 12 years. “But I am always asking myself how can I change my approach to engage my students? How do I keep them excited about coming to class?”
For Bangs, the answer is, in part, using technology. The intro to the arts course she teaches is a hybrid, which she credits Stuart Scott, fellow humanities professor, for developing. The subject matter lends itself easily to visual cues, which are most effective in engaging students accustomed to social media’s transient images.
“They are visual learners,” offers Bangs. “We can talk about short attention spans or we can work with those attention spans and, perhaps, get them more excited about what they are learning.”
With her piano students, the greater challenge is helping first timers overcome their fears.
“They start cautious and nervous and tell me ‘I would like to learn piano,’” relates Bangs. “The look on their faces when they play their first few notes is so exciting. Piano as a group activity can be a lot of fun.”
Bangs, however, began with private lessons after returning from school one day to discover a piano in the living room and her mother explaining to her father that their young daughter was going to learn to play. Turns out Bangs loved it and, like her hero Beethoven, she learned to play the organ as well. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Wayne State University and master’s and doctoral degrees, in music performance and music education, respectively, from the University of Miami.
“Professor Peeters is responsible for me going to Miami,” explains Bangs, “to study with one of his former students.”
Bangs stayed in Florida for more than two decades, teaching both organ and piano for Dade County Public Schools before returning to Michigan when her father became ill. After spending summers in Mexico as a teenager, travelling to China and living in Europe, she has seen many places. Vienna, where both Beethoven and Mozart lived and are buried, is her favorite. But, it is at Macomb where she has found her own special kind of harmony.
“It’s exciting to be a tiny part of my students’ transformation,” says Bangs. “What could be better than helping someone else realize their dreams?”