Collaboration with music professor enhances student’s education

Maria Reber ’21 of Fond du Lac originally wanted to attend a college with a large, prime music department. After receiving an email about applying to Ripon College, she decided to visit and speak with Assistant Professor of Music John Hughes, the director of choral activities. The visit sealed the deal for her as a Ripon College Red Hawk, and Reber has since enjoyed a personal mentorship with Hughes.

“His relationship with the students was something I had seen before, but not quite at that level,” Reber says. “It really pushed my decision to come to a small liberal arts college with a music department.”

Reber is majoring in music education and minoring in theatre, and she works closely with Hughes in multiple capacities. She is a member of Choral Union, Chamber Singers and Mu Phi Epsilon, the music honors fraternity. She even babysits for Hughes’ child on occasion.

“One of my favorite things about working at a small school and with a student like Maria is that I see her three to four times a day in different contexts, and that’s fun to help her develop in different ways,” Hughes says. “But, also, she’s seen me in different contexts. At a bigger school, you might see your professor only once a day.”

In addition to working together closely, Reber also has seen firsthand all that goes into being a choir director. “She’s seeing that a lot of my job is more than just waving my arms,” Hughes explains. “She’s getting that experience and seeing those other components: what it’s like to plan a choir tour, what it’s like setting a stage. I try to involve students like Maria in it.”

Reber also values observing Hughes in other capacities. “He’s involved in the National Association for Music Education (NAFME) and Mu Phi,” she says. “At NAFME, we had two meals together, spent time together and talked with other choral directors.”

This is Hughes’ fifth year teaching at Ripon. “I’ve really enjoyed it,” he says. “I knew when I was at college at a small liberal arts school that I wanted to be a choir director at the same kind of school, and that dream came true.”

Hughes strives to make the music department as warm and inviting as possible. There is a delicate balance between joking around with students and being serious when it comes time to accomplish goals, he says. “I like to know my students and joke and be comfortable with them, but I also have a responsibility to push them and make sure they’re on top of stuff and successful when leaving,” he says.

Hughes strongly believes “the greatest determinant of a student’s success is the teacher’s expectations.” Working with gifted students like Reber is exciting for Hughes because it “makes me a better professor because it makes me up my game, and it then helps set the standard for other students.”

Hughes also notes his many passions and interests and his strong desire to share those with his students. “When a student comes who is primed to take advantage of that, it’s exciting and breeds that in other students,” Hughes says.

Reber adds, “One of my favorite things about being in choir is interacting with the directors. It’s one of the reasons I went to so many camps. Each rehearsal is different, and I want to understand it. I’m learning more than music when I’m in an ensemble with Dr. Hughes.”

Dakota Marlega ’21
Waupaca, Wisconsin


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