Meet Dr. Alissa Freeman
With a unique profile in education, performance, and entrepreneurship, Alissa Freeman is a passionate musician who is always working on a new project. Her accomplishments in performance, pedagogy, and research have been vast and varied as the recipient of both the undergraduate and graduate Presser awards, numerous full-tuition academic and music scholarships, winner of two university concerto competitions, and performances and presentations both nationally and internationally.
As a performer, Alissa invites audiences to have new experiences in classical music by incorporating and contextualizing diverse programming. She recently prepared a series entitled Passports: Piano Music from Across the Continents to be presented at elementary schools, senior living centers, and other community centers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Believing in the importance of contextualizing historical music for audiences, she also recently prepared Clara Schumann and the Evolution of the Piano Recital after researching the topic in Zwickau, Germany. Though she is dedicated to finding works outside of the canon, she also enjoys tackling complex standards: she recently performed the entire set of Chopin’s Op. 25 etudes and was the soloist for performances of Rachmaninov’s 2nd and Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concertos.
Both in her personal and professional life, one of Alissa’s greatest goals is to build more inclusive environments by understanding barriers to inclusivity and finding creative ways to remove them. Her most recent project, ||:HerClassical:|| seeks to promote music written by 18th-century women composers by compiling and producing recordings, editions, and teaching resources. Very few pieces by women composers from this era are included in modern pedagogical compilations, though these pieces are wonderful additions to the student repertoire. By highlighting these pieces and creating new, more accessible editions, ||:HerClassical:|| opens the doors for pianists and teachers to explore this music. A committed ally dedicated to supporting marginalized people, Alissa also worked as a Program Assistant for the University of Michigan School of Music’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) department.
Alissa is a firm believer that music can shape and change communities, each with their own unique needs and solutions. As one of the principal instructors for Time for Me: Group Piano for Adult Beginners, a community program in the Ann Arbor area, she helped students find confidence, community, and fulfillment through a group piano course. She also directed the creation of the 5pm Series, a concert series that aimed to provide financial support to musicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization hosted over 130 online concerts across the world and raised thousands of dollars for artist relief and charities.
Alissa has presented research at national and international conferences. Many of her research interests are related to issues of inclusion in piano pedagogy, particularly teaching the music of classical- and romantic-era female composers. She is also interested in wellness in music, and group piano learning.
University of Michigan
The time I spent completing my Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy allowed me to immerse myself in complex music and ideas about music. The dissertation I wrote was titled "A New Liberation: Reviving the Works of 18th-Century Women Composers." This was groundbreaking research, an important aspect of which was the ||:HerClassical:|| project.
University of Michigan
The Master of Music Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy was my dream program! I was so thrilled to be able to fully devote myself not only to deep learning about piano playing with my amazing instructor, Logan Skelton, but also to my teaching of a variety of students in classes and private lessons.
Brigham Young University
During my Bachelor's of Musical Arts degree, I did everything! I accompanied choirs, opera rehearsals, and musicals, worked with composers of new music (my favorite was accompanying a musical saw), placed in competitions, and played concerti with all three of the university orchestras. My professors gave me strong foundations in music theory and history, for which I am very grateful.
The process of honing my teaching practices has been one of the most meaningful undertakings of my life. During my teaching years, I have gained broad pedagogical knowledge from my in-depth studies of piano pedagogy and from working with many different types of students whom I have geared toward various learning outcomes based upon their unique needs and desires. These experiences have helped illuminate the guiding principles of my own teaching philosophy.
Intentional Artistry: Developing artistry is important as it gives students the confidence to have a unique voice in a field that can seem very large at times. I direct students to use their artistry intentionally, whether that be through championing works by traditionally underrepresented composers, curating programs that engage specific audiences, or finding other ways to further their individual values through music. Since I believe that great artistry is often best developed through observation, I help connect students to recordings and videos of diverse artists from whom they might draw inspiration.
One of the most important ways I teach my students to be intentional about their music is by maximizing their impact on their communities. As a teacher, I encourage creative thinking from students by helping them develop their projects and ideas at various stages. From grant writing to research and from my private studio to the entrepreneurial The 5pm Series, I have experience and encouragement to share. Not only is this type of work fulfilling, but also it can lead to long-term involvement in music for ourselves and our communities.
Wellness: There are many different types of wellness: emotional, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, and social, to name a few, and disparities in any of them can hold students back in their studies. I offer my students support, transparency, and trust, so that they feel safe to speak with me about their lives beyond music. Many of my students have faced mental health challenges and when these difficulties arise, I exercise compassion and understanding, while also directing students to campus resources when applicable and creating practical plans to help them continue learning.
Physical wellness is an important aspect of instrumental study and central to this is the careful teaching of technique that avoids injury and pain. I define technique as the ability to play the instrument with ease, producing the widest possible variety of sounds, dynamics, textures, and colors. By developing a strong technical foundation, my students are more easily able to achieve musical artistry by embedding music with their own creativity and passion. When I work with students, no matter what level they are at, I watch for any unnatural movements such as twisting and stretching and rework passages to prevent injury; together we slowly figure out the motions and fingerings that work for their hands.
Theory and History - Knowledge and Application: Music theory and history work together to inform the black and white notes on the pages of music. When students have a strong theoretical knowledge, it quickly shows in their ability to learn music independently and to play it artistically. Music theory itself acts as one of the most important interpretive tools a student can have. Students can use their understanding of phrase structure, harmony, melodic contour, voicing, meter, form, and so on, to enliven their dynamics, phrasing, and rubato—many of the most important aspects of artistry.
Another important aspect of my teaching is helping students learn about the pieces they study in the larger context of music history. This can help students approach their music with a heightened awareness of style and other characteristics. Further, by probing the history of western classical music, I engage students in thoughtful discussions about the music that is often programmed and viewed as art. I aim to teach repertoire that is not typically part of the western canon, particularly pieces by composers of underrepresented identities. I often ask my students questions surrounding music history and theory, not only to assess gaps, but also to engage them in the process of music making and exploration. My hope is to give them a sense of ownership in that art.
Collaboration and Community: Fostering a strong sense of community both in and outside of the classroom is an essential aspect of student growth, and makes studying music more enjoyable. When creating lesson plans, I ensure that each class has at least one collaborative element to help build community in the classroom. I also encourage students to participate in ensembles, as this can be a wonderful way to learn from other musicians and engage in meaningful music making.
With the great sense of responsibility I feel to guide my students in their musical journeys comes an accompanying gratitude for the many teachers who have positively impacted my own growth as a musician and person throughout my life. By offering my students the knowledge and tools to guide their explorations of music, I hope to help them become future artistic leaders in their communities.