Jonathan Millen is a Professor in the Department of Communication at Rider
University. He first played with the professors on April 10, 1999 at
the 3rd annual meeting of the New Jersey Communication Association held
at Rider University that year. He sat in with the group for a spontaneous miniset
of standards including a great version of Midnight Hour. Over the next
year and a half he would fill in behind the kit as the band continued to
evolve through a number of personnel changes. Jonathan officially
joined the band in the fall of 2000.
MUSIC, PERFORMANCE, AND CONNECTING WITH STUDENTS
BY JONATHAN MILLEN
From Radford, G. P., Cooper, S. D., Kubey, R. W., McCurry, D. S., Millen, J., and
Barrows, J. R. (2002). Collaborative Musical Expression and Creativity Among Academics: When
Intellectualism Meets Twelve Bar Blues. American Communication Journal [Online] Volume 6, Issue 1,
On a number of occasions I have performed as part of a band for my students. I find that music is not only a
universal language, but also a discourse of connection. Music brings people together though common
experience. The pragmatics of music performance as a "speech act" thrusts students and educators into a
relationship in which the traditional norms of interaction fail. Students tend to see faculty as just that:
People whose job it is to teach and conduct research. But, using music as a kind of bridge, students often
experience a moment of epiphany: “Wow,” they say, “he's a drummer, too!”
In teaching a course on the social impact of rock and roll, one of my focal points is on the unique
experience of media consumption through live performance. When compared to radio, TV/video, and
personal music media (i.e., stereos), the live performance has the potential to create a fleeting
communicative identity (in the narrative sense of, remember when...) among the participants/members of
the audience. Performing for my students is in some ways an effort to do just that.
Discursive identities in the classroom are constructed through a wide array of events including lectures,
question and answer sessions, exams, and pre/post classroom discussions. But our identities become much
more complex when students participate in a wider array of episodes with faculty. While the student
generation is arguably the rightful trustee of popular music, I find I develop a certain amount of Ethos with
my students after they attend a performance. Performing rock and pop brings us back up to the level of the student. We temporarily regain the wonderfully naive and unpretentious spirit that drives so much of the
music and is often missing from our lectures. On a related note, I also experience a sense of role conflict: If
I screw up a drum part, will I lose credibility in the classroom? While I have little sense of nervousness in
the classroom, with the same audience I am much more nervous behind the drum set.
Therein lies the richness of it all. By expanding the perspective through which my students see me, I invite
them to do the same in return. They have brought in their favorite CDs for me to listen to, played demos for
me of their own original music, and even invited me to jam with them. Others share stories of their favorite
concerts and bring in their personal memorabilia. The result is a relationship that transcends the typical
classroom boundaries as it embraces the notion that we all are far more complex than we may appear to be.
It seems everyone has stories to tell about the music in their lives, and when given the opportunity, will
share them openly and enthusiastically.
In general, playing in a band allows me to consider myself an artist. While scholarship demands a certain
creativity, music is bound by a less restrictive set of expectations. Similarly, I always have said that
teaching must be considered a performance. But with music, the reaction of the audience is more
spontaneous (and usually more critical!). We teach and write to some extent because we have to for
professional and economic reasons. We also play because we have to, but we are driven, like all artists, by
passion and creativity.
This page last updated
July 6, 2013 by Gary
Many thanks to Kurt
Wagner, Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.