Faculty Spotlight

This Piper’s tune resonates at Brandman

October 29, 2015 by Brandman University
Professor Carla Piper

Professor Carla Piper in her Modesto campus office.

Dr. Carla Piper is a Renaissance woman, and it’s not just because she plays the lute.

She’s been a musician, a composer, the voice of animated cartoon characters, an elementary and junior high school teacher, a technology maven, a college professor and a key link to the myriad of teachers and administrators who’ve benefited from School of Education offerings in Modesto and online. She also plays the ukulele even though she originally majored in piano and trombone. And yes, she is an expert in Renaissance and other early music.

“I’m never one to say no to a new opportunity. If I think something is exciting, I want to do it,” said Piper.

It would take literally pages to detail all of Piper’s accomplishments. At Brandman, she’s focused on helping the next generation of teachers continue the innovation she sees as so vital to education.

When Brandman made the switch to blended (combined in class and online work), Piper was eager to sign on. She thought the last hour of most five-hour classes was wasted (“You’re just trying to keep people awake.”) and that giving them a chance to do three hours in class and the rest online made much more sense.

“I teach better when I have that online component. Students like to collaborate and interact with their colleagues, of course, so it’s really exciting to combine the two,” said Piper.

For someone who speaks so enthusiastically about teaching teachers and the innovations in technology that keep her interested, it’s a little surprising that she says the best job she ever had was her first one, teaching music to seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders in Nebraska. But it was what she set out to do when she started studying music education at the University of Nebraska. “I knew I was not going to sit and play the piano for six hours a day for the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to do more than that,” she said.

But when she moved to California and started teaching, the sorry state of music in the schools proved too depressing and then got worse with the passage of Prop 13. It was a tough time for music education so she decided to pursue a masters in early music at Stanford University.

“I loved playing all the instruments,” she said. She was soon arranging instrumentals for film scores, training videos and anything else that used all her “strange” instruments thanks to a neighbor working in advertising who convinced her there were possibilities beyond just playing at weddings in the hills and at the ocean.

“I think I’ve done jingles for every pizza place,” she said. Among her best known: a version of “You Deserve a Break Today,” for McDonald’s.  There was also a gig as a talking roast beef. “It was the typical freelance musician work.”

Piper also had a rock'n'roll period.

Piper didn’t just play Baroque instruments, including the lute, harpsichord, viola da gamba, sackbuts, krumhorns and recorder. She also had a rock ‘n’ roll period.

She became interested in composing and performing children’s music, including Sesame Street’s “Fairy Alphabet” done in Baroque musical style and “Simple Simon” in Renaissance style and music for the Zoo-phonics series. That led her back to education.

“When I decided to go back to teaching, I brought all of that with me,” she said. The lucky beneficiaries were the children in her Empire Elementary classes in Modesto, some of whom she hired to sing her Zoophonics songs.

It was while recording her music that she got into technology. “As I did things for my own company (Soundpiper Music), I had to develop graphics, and the computers got bigger and bigger and better and better. So the options were there. You could be very creative with computer composition, graphic arts and multimedia. I got really hooked on multimedia. Then when I was teaching at Empire, I realized that this was very motivating to my student,” she said.

In a school were test scores hovered in the 25th percentile, she found they could turn kids’ lives around by giving them the tools to be creative. “They felt like they were doing real work. They wanted to make something. They wanted to be creative.”

As she pursued her doctorate of education at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, she switched from a music emphasis to electronic portfolios and multimedia and helping students become producers not just consumers of multimedia.

In 1998 when Brandman was still known in Modesto as the College of Lifelong Learning, Piper began teaching university courses for students in the multiple subject credential program. Piper’s work at the university speaks for itself. She’s developed more than 20 courses for the School of Education and had a hand in dozens of others. Her colleagues value not only her technology skills but her willingness to jump in and share what she knows with students, academic advisors and fellow faculty members.

“Carla is the consummate professional and lifelong learner. She constantly seeks out professional development opportunities and is always on the “cutting edge” of new technology.  Faculty members seek her advice on course development and the tutorials she creates are used by many,” said Kathy Theuer, associate dean of the School of Education. “In her role as the School of Education assessment coordinator over the past four years, Carla has worked tirelessly to help develop and implement a state-of-the-art assessment system that has received accolades from our accreditors.”

But music remains in her repertoire. Now that she’s guiding teachers through Common Core workshops, she’s showing them how they can use music to teach Common Core standards using puppets and a variety of instruments.

“One of the goals of my workshops is to present activities that are easy for anyone to do. Any classroom teacher can play a drum. And they can use that to teach rhythm. And rhythm is written from left to right, very much like reading, and it uses symbols, so you can correlate it to reading. The only way the visual and performing arts can survive in this very intense period is to fully integrate it into the curriculum,” she said.

Any discussion of California history could include a look at the art, the photographs and the music of the period. “It’s all available through the Library of Congress. You can go to the primary sources,” she said. “And it opens a lot of other doors. How are we expressing ourselves today?”

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