Music teachers’ association names Montana State piano professor its teacher of the year

Monday Mar. 27th, 2023

– Julie Gosswiller began playing the piano as a young child at her grandmother’s house, then graduated at age 7 to “an old, clunky, yellow-painted piano” her parents picked up at a yard sale after she asked if she could take piano lessons.

After taking those first steps, she never looked back, becoming an accomplished pianist, performer, private teacher and associate teaching professor in the Montana State University School of Music. Yet despite her accomplishments, being named Teacher of the Year by the Montana State Music Teachers Association, or MSMTA, caught her by surprise.

“I had no idea that was coming – it feels very good to get that kind of reinforcement from a state organization and to be selected from my college and private studio teacher peers,” said Gosswiller, who has taught at MSU since 2005.

Laura Detrick, immediate past president of MSMTA, said Gosswiller was selected because her focus on teaching and collaborative performance has made a “vast impact” on the Montana music community.

“While her prowess in both is well-known throughout Montana and beyond, she also – very quietly – invests much time in individually mentoring her fellow teachers and musicians throughout the state,” Detrick said. “All of this is done with such joy that one can hardly help but to catch the fire and passion behind her musicality.”

Gosswiller’s colleagues also referenced that joy while celebrating her honor from the organization, whose members are university and private music teachers. MTMSA is an affiliate of the Music Teachers National Association.

“I think the extraordinary thing about Julie is she just makes people become their best selves,” said Elizabeth Croy, professor of voice and music, who often performs with Gosswiller. “She is energetic and joyful, and she can play a wide range of music. She’s an amazing person.”

Professor Greg Young said Gosswiller’s students “rave about her caring nature and ability to help them reach their full potential,” a sentiment echoed by her fellow assistant professor of piano Ken Christiansen, who calls her a “positive force” in the music school and around the state, where she regularly serves as a judge for music festivals and provides encouragement to budding young talents.

Gosswiller was raised in Idaho and said her background helps her relate to her students at MSU, many of whom come from rural areas where there weren’t always opportunities to hear live music.

“We have such a diverse student body who come from all these different backgrounds and are working on different things. I try to meet them exactly where they are,” she said.

She does the same for music students outside of Bozeman, noted Royce Smith, dean of MSU’s College of Arts and Architecture.

“Excellence in teaching is not only about speaking to the student who is laser-focused on a career in piano, but also to the student who doesn’t yet know of their love for the instrument,” he said. “Julie makes both groups feel welcome in her classes and in her outreach activities across the state.”

Gosswiller’s very first piano teacher was an opera singer who would sing at her lessons. Later, her school choir teacher “told me I had to help her teach the choir. She would send me to the practice room, and I had to come out in five minutes ready to play the piece.” While pursuing her master’s degree of music in piano performance at the University of Colorado, she studied under renowned pianist Angela Cheng, whose pure ability to be a vehicle of musical expression inspired her.

“I had so many great teachers, and I think I’ve taken something from all of them,” she said.

When working with her private studio and MSU students, she said, “What’s most important is they play with their natural voice. We discover this through a free technique which enables them to draw a vast palette of sound and musical expression from the instrument.

“The last thing is really teaching them as a human being so that they feel confident enough to express themselves freely in front of an audience,” she said.

Gosswiller decided as a college senior to drop her second major of English and go all in for music because she “couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.” It’s a decision she said has been affirmed over the past three years.

“The pandemic made me realize there’s no better job than this,” she said. “I feel like I’m such a lucky human being to go to work with other humans and play music, which brings us together.”