Dr. Thomas Swenson ’96 MM, a graduate of UNC Greensboro’s School of Music has received the North Carolina Music Teachers Association Teacher of the Year award for 2020.
The award recognizes a teacher who makes a significant difference in the lives of students, contributes to the advancement of music in a community, and is an outstanding example of a music educator.
Swenson has taught at the Music Academy of North Carolina (MANC) since 1996, and also teaches courses at UNCSA as a Visiting Instructor, as well as at the UNCG Summer Music Camp. At MANC, he currently holds the distinction of “Master Teacher,” a title bestowed upon teachers who have demonstrated commitment to the institution and in recognition of the achievements of their students.
While at UNCG, Swenson studied piano with Dr. John Salmon.
“He is an astounding musician – classical and jazz – who opened up my mind and ears to the magic that can be created on a piano,” recalled Swenson. “Although I have met with, and worked with, several incredible and famous pianists in my life, John Salmon inhabits a different world altogether.”
Swenson taught Group Piano at UNCG, under the supervision of Dr. Paul Stewart, and he also taught private piano lessons as part of the UNCG Community Music School (CMS), under Dr. Jim Prodan.
“Both of these experiences solidified my passion for teaching piano, eventually leading toward a doctoral degree in piano pedagogy,” said Swenson. “My doctoral dissertation focused on teaching adults and the inspiration for that topic really began while teaching for the UNCG CMS.”
“My relationship with Dr. Stewart continued to grow after completing my MM degree,” he added. “Both he and Dr. John Locke (another great leader) contracted me to teach at the UNCG Summer Piano Camp, which I have enjoyed doing just about every year for over two decades. Dr. Stewart was a role model and mentor for his contributions to local, state, and national music teachers organizations. Lastly, while working towards my MM degree I sang with, and accompanied, the Chamber Choir directed by the honorable and late Dr. Richard Cox. His love for music was infectious…I owe much of my success and recognition to my education, mentors, colleagues, and friends associated with UNCG.”
Since arriving in North Carolina from Minnesota, Swenson has served in many leadership roles within the Greensboro Music Teachers Association, the North Carolina Music Teachers Association, and the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). He serves on the board of directors of Eastern Music Festival, and is Southern Division Director Elect for MTNA.
“North Carolina embraced me, quickly provided me with a strong network of friends and colleagues, and allowed me to work in the field of music from the day I arrived,” he said. “Our region and state have many extraordinary teachers, supportive parents, and opportunities in the arts…I feel incredibly humbled to receive this award. Like so many of my music-teaching colleagues, I simply do my best and try to help each and every student to reach their potential. Every day, I seek to both learn and teach.”
Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Thomas Swenson