The Center for Musical Arts is proud to work with knowledgeable faculty with unique backgrounds. In this interview with piano, violin, and viola instructor Ruth Galloway we explore her teaching style, her fascinating education and career path, and much more. Watch or read the interview below.
Introduction to Ruth Galloway
Center for Musical Arts: Well, good morning! My name is Erica Reid, I am the Marketing Manager at the Center for Musical Arts, and we are continuing our project to get to know the different faculty members at the Center. So today, I am here with Ruth Galloway. How are you doing, Ruth?
Ruth Galloway: I’m fine. Thank you. I look forward to talking with you.
Center: Yeah, me too. Me too. I haven’t met you before this interview, so these opportunities are as fun for me as I think they are for the people who watch them. Can you just start us off? Let me know what you teach and what your history is with the Center for Musical Arts.
Ruth: I teach violin, viola, and piano. I’ve been teaching at the music school for about 20 years. I think I started in the fall of 2001, not 2021. So about 20 years ago.
Center: You have an extensive history of teaching music, but I understand you have a different professional background. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Ruth’s Fascinating Career Path
Ruth: Yes. Well, I started off completely as a music major at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and the reason being that I was really into music, but despite my teachers wanting me to apply for Juilliard or Eastman School of Music and New England Conservatory of Music, I was one of five kids and we were short on cash. So I was a really, really good student. So if you graduate at the top of your class in Missouri, you can go to college for free at any University of Missouri campus.
Center: And you studied music?
Ruth: I started off with that. I had a music scholarship on top of the complete scholarship from the University of Missouri. So I just needed to deal with our living expenses, dormitory, that sort of thing. But then they told me I had to be also trained to be a teacher. I had to take teaching classes. I had tried to be a violin teacher as a high school student for some beginners, and I felt like I wasn’t very good at it and that they didn’t make progress. I thought I’ll never be any good at this. I need to do a different major because I’ll never be good as a teacher. They said, “There’s no guarantee of a position in an orchestra… and you’re female.” At the time, things were such that I’d go to see the Kansas City Philharmonic and there were only two women in the entire orchestra.
Ruth: One flute player and one second violinist. The chances of getting a position in any professional orchestra as a female is almost a non-existent chance. So I stood out everywhere I went and even as a music major, everybody was female, but I looked at the jobs at orchestras and saw it’s for males. So I decided I better switch majors and I became a biology major, but I refused to give up the violin! So I kept taking violin lessons and studying at the university at the same time as majoring in biology and taking chemistry classes, played in the orchestra. Then when I finished, I got a job in biology and then I met the guy who became my husband and he got a job in Cleveland. So I followed him to Cleveland, entered graduate school in biology there.
I love the Cleveland Orchestra. I signed up for lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music, both for piano and for violin, and both faculty members who heard me play who were going to assign me to graduate students, when they heard me play the respective instruments, decided to keep me for themselves. So I got to do, as a community member, piano lessons with a faculty member for both violin and piano. So I did five years of really serious piano study finally at the Cleveland Institute of Music and it was just fabulous. The violin teacher finally got annoyed with me because she wanted me to quit graduate school in biology and become a graduate student in violin. So then I studied with the principal second violinist of the Cleveland Orchestra for four years.
So, moved on to St. Louis, played on the non-professional orchestra in St. Louis. I had a piano trio in St. Louis. We played a lot of music during the time I lived there. I bought a baby grand piano, which I still own, a $14,000 instrument. I got it used, so it was cheaper and I had to get a car loan size loan to buy it.
Then when I moved out here, I went to hear the Boulder Phil and I go, “I can play in this orchestra.” I found out even paid money, $50 for a concert or rehearsal, but still, it paid money, and I auditioned and got in. It was just the love of my life to be able to play in an orchestra week after week. We played all the Beethoven symphonies and got to play with Itzhak Perlman. It was a wonderful experience. Then I made friends with all these people in the orchestra I told you about.
Then I had a baby on the way, and it became clear my job at the university as a biologist wasn’t going to last any longer. The baby was born. Then my friend Karen in the orchestra started the Boulder Arts Academy and they asked me to be a teacher. I said, “I didn’t finish my degree in music. I didn’t finish it.” She goes, “That’s okay. I know that you know enough about playing and I know that you’re good with kids. I’ve seen you with the children of other members of the orchestra. I know you’re good with kids. I know you can do this and I need people like you. So you can do this. Come to some of my lessons.”
Then Sue Levine at the time was starting to try to do Suzuki teacher training and I signed up with her. I did the books 1 through 7 with her. So I did Suzuki teaching training for a couple of years until I had completed through that and I became a violin teacher. I was like, “I’ll never teach violin. I’m not any good at this.” Then somebody, I can’t remember who it was, said, “You know enough about piano. You ought to also teach piano. You can at least do beginning piano.” So I took off and became a piano teacher.
Ruth Galloway, PhD
Center: Ruth, I think this is incredible. I think — for one thing, the path that you began with came back to you when it was time. [laughs] When you were ready to do it. I think that it is hard enough to excel at both piano and violin, and then to add on… What degree did you say you ended up with in biology?
Ruth: I didn’t say. I have a PhD in genetics.
Center: Right. [laughs] So to excel into different instruments is hard enough, and then to just add in this extra PhD in genetics, and then becoming a mother and all of this, you have managed so much. So it just thrills me to know that you are also a faculty member here at the Center. We’re so lucky to have you with this robust background, all the places you’ve played, all the things that you’ve learned.
Ruth: Well, I really have loved the teaching aspect too. It’s not the same as playing, but I find that I have enough skill that I know about the music. What I enjoy is watching another person learn to play or get better at what they know how to do. That’s what I thought I would do in biology, but I never was able to get a teaching position in biology.
Center: So the passion for teaching is still there — the subject just has changed.
Welcoming Every Student
Ruth: Right, and it turned out that I’m quite willing to deal with whatever the person comes to me with. If they have problems with reading, they’re dyslexic or other sorts of difficulties… I have a student who will sit on the piano bench and do circles. He just kind of circles himself around and I just wait for him to do it a couple of times. I say, “When you’re done, come back and find the keys and find middle C and let’s try it again.” So I actually enjoy seeing him work at it and get better.
So I don’t think that people should write off doing music lessons just because of some difficulty or another that they have. If they enjoy music and want to get better at it, I’m willing to work with them. Some people find they prefer the piano to the violin because you don’t have to worry about playing in tune on the piano. I’ve had people switch from violin to piano when they discovered I also do piano.
Center: I’ve been asking each of our faculty members about their teaching philosophy and you sort of led us into this. Is that a core tenant of the way that you teach, that there is a way into music for anybody?
Ruth: I think so. That was the basic beginning of the Suzuki method, which was “anybody can learn.” So maybe you can’t be a professional violinist, but if you enjoy music and wanting to get better at it, it’s possible to learn to play better. So I always look for what the student did positively. “Okay. You played that well in tune and you got the articulation.” If they’re playing violin, of course, we’re talking about pitch. Or, “You got the rhythm right, but there’s a place here where you’re supposed to be a little louder. Let’s try it again.” So I try to start with the positive and then be encouraging about how to do it better rather than, “You made a mistake here.”
I got that from the teachers I’ve had over the years who’ve worked with me. The ones who are better teachers accentuate the positive and then encourage how to work on it to play better. There’s always methods to use to work on something. You don’t just sit down and play it and it gets better if you do over and over again. There are ways to work on where you have a problem. Sometimes people don’t know that they need to count inside their heads. They don’t realize that to do a longer note, you can’t just guess how long it needs to be.
Center: That would probably be me as a musician, just winging it. [laughs]
Ruth: Yeah, I had a student once where I said, “There’s something you need to be doing inside your head that I can tell you’re not doing it.” She looked at me. She’s about 12 or 13. She looks at me and goes, “You can read minds?” [laughs]
Center: A good teacher sort of can, can’t she?
Ruth: “No, I can’t read your mind, but I know that you’re not counting this. So this is what you need to do. I’m pretty sure you can count to three. Let’s try this. Play the note. If you can’t do it out loud, see if you can at least count inside your head one, two, three.” I remember that being the first thing my mom was trying to teach me to do on the piano was to count to four.
Center: It’s harder to multitask than you’d think. It’s a hard thing to learn.
Teaching More Than Music
Ruth: But then again, what I’m teaching isn’t just the music, but with children in particular, I’m teaching perseverance, teaching “try again” and teaching that it’s going to take a while to see progress on this. But if you work at it, you’ll get better. I get to be part of their lives, too. If they take lessons long enough, I get to watch them grow up. It’s just once a week, but it’s like, “Oh, you have a t-shirt on with a picture of Mars on it. Why? Are you interested in Mars?” Then I hear all about their interests about planets in the solar system and what they hope to do some day.
Center: If they come in with a shirt that says “Gregor Mendel,” then you know exactly how to talk to them. [laughs]
Ruth: I have a girl who always wears wolves, pictures of wolves on her t-shirt. She has a variety of wolf t-shirts. So we talk about wolves and “Have you been to Yellowstone?” Things like that. So it’s interesting to me what people do. Then with the adults, “Well, what do you do for a living?” It just kind of comes up. “What kind of work do you do? Did you ever play another instrument? How long have you played?” Those sorts of things.
To me, it’s a great honor to be part of their lives. With doing the lessons online, I get to see a little bit more intimate details. I get to meet the cat, or the dog, or hear about the pet guinea pig they just got. “What’d you name the guinea pig?” “Should I go get it?” “No, let’s do the lesson.” [laughs]
Center: Well, I love that point of view. I love hearing that the teaching is more than music, as you say, that there’s something about sharing an intimate piece of someone’s life as they grow and progress and move on to different passions and different skill levels. I think that’s really fascinating.
Ruth: Then maybe just a little bit of information on music theory, how music gets constructed, intervals — the distances between notes — to be able to talk about that. Now that we’re doing it online, I’ve had students ask me how I know that they’ve played the wrong note, and they’ve been surprised to know that I can hear exactly which note they’re playing and what the note is supposed to be instead, and talk to them about what they need to change that they’re doing to get the correct note. I was always doing that in person, but they weren’t aware that I could hear the notes and hear whether they play the F sharp or F natural. They didn’t realize that it was possible. So I talked to him about note training — ear training — to be able to hear different notes, and high and low notes and how far apart notes are. So I work on those sorts of things a little bit at a time.
Center: Learning to teach online is another form of perseverance, for sure.
Ruth: But it’s still enjoyable. I look forward to seeing my students every week and seeing how they’ve progressed and looking for ways to encourage the ones who aren’t practicing trying to praise the ones who have. So the ones who aren’t practicing, when I see a little bit of improvement, I try to really, really praise that because I find praise to be far more effective than negative comments.
Ruth in Her Garden
Center: Fantastic. Well, I wanted to ask outside of music what else fills your life? You, like so many of the faculty members I have talked to, sound very busy. You have a very full schedule of not just music lessons, but other interests, but are there other things that you like to do when you have your free time?
Ruth: Well, I mentioned the biology degree. I like to garden and my mom always gardened. She’d had me out in the yard. This was how she dealt with having so many kids was we’d just be out in the yard with her. If she’s doing yard work, we’d play some, but she taught us things like, “This is the flower I’m trying to keep. This is a weed. This is how you dig it up,” and I became interested in what was in the soil, the worms and bugs, and the various weeds. So we were just out digging in the yard and my grandmother would have me helping in her garden when we visited there. So I still like that and that’s where my interest in biology came from, I believe.
I love plants and animals. At the music school, I had all these calendars of different wildlife pictures on my walls. It was my cheap way of decorating my room, wolves and eagles and all sorts of creatures, polar bears. I give out those sorts of stickers to students when they finish pieces. So I still mail stickers. So biology is a very big interest in my life. It always has been. I don’t know how to express it better than that, but just nature and trees and leaves.
My degree was actually in the genetics of algae. When I came to Colorado, I was with the, what’s now NREL, National Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, and I was going to work with the generics of algae to create a diesel from algae, but the program disappeared because it was a government funded program and the funding went away. So that was a factor in me becoming just music all around. But I was very, very interested in little tiny creatures growing in the pond, the algae, the scum, the ducks that eat the creatures in the pond. That was something just all around that attracted my interest.
But from a very early age, I heard my mom playing Chopin on the piano too. So she was a big factor in these things. She put me down for a nap and then played Chopin. So when I was a teenager and was first introduced to Chopin and “Minute Waltz,” it’s like, “Oh, I already know this.” “How can you know this?” I said, “My mom used to play it.” “How long ago was that?” I’m going, “About 15 years,” but I knew that–
Center: Deeply ingrained.
The Gift of Tuition Assistance
Ruth: Yes. So it’s deeply ingrained that the piano and the sound of music was something in our household. It’s just we were strained financially because there are five of us, but we were all playing piano. I had an orchestra teacher. I started violin when I was 10 in fifth grade and I knew so much from piano. I knew how to read the notes. I decided to go ahead because it was being too slow in the orchestra. So I went ahead and eventually, I was playing through the whole book and he found out that I was trying to do that and he had me try to play something more advanced. Then he realized I needed a private teacher.
He went looking in Kansas City for the best private teacher you could find and he negotiated with the teacher for a lower price for my lessons because he knew my parents were hard up for money. He was fabulous for helping me get that opportunity because I wouldn’t have gotten if he hadn’t done that, but I wouldn’t have been moving ahead without having all this piano and the background of my mom playing piano, teaching piano.
Center: That’s a good opportunity for me to mention maybe that the Center offers tuition assistance through its Heartstrings Program. At the Center — it’s very central to its core beliefs that no student should be turned away for financial reasons. So if there’s a student watching this who’s thinking, “Man, I would love to work with Ruth Galloway playing piano or violin,” know that that’s an option and something that’s very important to the Center as well.
Ruth: It’s been very important to me as a teacher at the Center to know that some of my students are in an adverse financial position and that they really want to do the lessons and to be encouraging to them to help them out knowing that this is hard for them because I remember that situation. And because of how hard I worked at it, my parents figured out a way for my father to work an additional part-time job and then my siblings got lessons, too. There used to be violins and violas and the cello and the piano going all at once in the evening. Everybody would be practicing in their rooms and in the living room. It was just total chaos. I learned how to just shut out what I didn’t need to hear and just listen to what I was doing.
I feel grateful to have had that opportunity and I want to be able to pass it on, so to speak, because I can tell when somebody is really into it and I can tell when the parents are kind of struggling financially. I can relate to that. So I try to help them out any way I can, get them a shoulder pad if they don’t have a shoulder pad for their violin, or help them get the music they need if they’re having trouble affording a book. So I am very conscious of that situation. If you work hard enough, what I tell them, if you work hard enough at the things you’re into that you’re interested in, you’ll find a way to do what you want to do with your life. So keep working at it. Keep trying. Keep practicing.
Center: Alright. I think that’s a great place for us to stop. Thank you again, Ruth, for sitting down with me today. You have been another fascinating faculty member to get to know. I loved hearing about your background and the way you work with your students. So thank you for sharing that with me today.
Ruth: Okay. You’re welcome. It’s nice talking with you.
Center: Have a great day.
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