Jamison Barrett heads to Japan

New graduate will teach at Tokyo International School this year
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jamison Barrett began studying violin when he was in third grade, and he fell in love with the instrument right away. In fact, he thought he would ultimately make playing strings his life work.  But by the time he was in high school, he told his teacher he was unsure about his decision to follow strings. “I was practicing seven hours a day, and I really felt burned out,” he says. 

His teacher suggested focusing on vocal music, since he was also a talented singer and had participated in district, regional and all-state choirs. When it was time to consider colleges, his teacher suggested that Jamison consider Westminster Choir College. Already familiar with Westminster since many of his honor choir conductors were associated with Westminster in some way, he decided to take a campus tour.  “Little did I know that it would be the best decision I could have made,” Jamison recalled.  “As soon as I visited, I knew that’s where I wanted to go to college.” And once he enrolled at Westminster, he also “fell in love” with the theory behind music education — how people learn music — and critical pedagogy in music education.

Four years later, with a new bachelor’s degree in music education, Jamison is revolving full circle in his career plans. He recently moved to Japan to teach string methods at the Tokyo International School.

Reflecting on his years at the Choir College, he said that recording James Whitbourn’s Annelies as a member of the Westminster Williamson Voices, which was nominated for a 2013 Best Choral Performance Grammy Award, was one of the high points.  Also performing Verdi’s Requiem with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin was unforgettable.

As a Music Education major, he worked with Professor Frank Abrahams in a research group titled Teaching and Learning Kodály. Also with Dr. Abrahams he explored for the first time the research side of education and critical pedagogy. He student taught at Ewing Township’s Antheil elementary school, where he worked with all 700 students at some point.  

“I introduced my students to a lot of world music, and they loved it,” he said. “I’m interested in the study and pedagogy of world music and how to make it more accessible for younger ears.  I had my first-grade students doing South African dance.”

His interest in world music is one reason for his decision to teach in Japan. “I’ve always been interested in East Asian music,” he said. 

While he was a student, he wrote a research proposal focusing on how to incorporate critical pedagogy into South Korea’s government-mandated national curriculum. He also was a member of Westminster’s Chinese Instrument Orchestra, where he learned to play the erhu, an instrument with one string that’s played with a bow. 

“My experience with the violin made it easier. Part of the challenge is the Chinese notation – numbers, not notes,” he added.

When he entered his senior year and started considering applying for jobs abroad, Dr. Abrahams put him in touch with the music coordinator at Tokyo International School, who had taken an online course with him.

“That’s the beauty of Westminster, there are so many connections,” he said.

He applied at the beginning of the second semester and had two Skype interviews.  A week later he received a job offer, and despite never having been to Japan, he decided to “take the plunge” and accept the position.  

The Tokyo International School is located in central Tokyo. He’ll teach group and private lessons for grades 6 to 8 and also cover the school orchestra. He’ll also be able to teach privately outside of the school.  He plans to incorporate critical pedagogy and reciprocal teaching into his classes. “I want to allow a conversation between teacher and student.  Not all students learn the same way,” he said.

Acknowledging that he wasn’t “100 percent a choral person” when he enrolled at the Choir College, he said, “I learned a great deal from the choral experience. In my high school orchestra it was harder to think about other sections because my left hand was doing one thing and my right another, all while reading the sheet music in front of me and keeping my eye on the conductor. However, my choral experience at Westminster taught me about different ways to approach group listening and how I can apply them in an orchestral setting. I want to incorporate bunch of singing into my program!”

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Jamison Barrett playing erhu with the Westminster Chinese Instrument Orchestra