Leader of the band
Brian Silvey, honored with a prestigious Kemper Award, challenges students to take music to the next level
It was the most magnificent sound Brian Silvey had ever heard.
He was a junior in high school and practicing with the Kentucky All-State Band. Silvey played the trombone in the Mason County High School band and was an exceptional player. But he had never been surrounded by so many talented musicians or directed by the likes of James K. Copenhaver, who would go on to leave an indelible mark on the University of South Carolina as director of bands for more than 30 years.
For young Silvey, all-state band was the big time — and the music, well, it was otherworldly.
“It was the most glorious sound I had ever heard, and I literally stopped playing because I had never heard anything like it,” recalled Silvey, now an associate professor of music education and director of bands at the University of Missouri’s School of Music. “It was so impressive and so overwhelming.”
Silvey suddenly realized he was on the cusp of a life-changing experience. He was being pushed to perform at a level he’d never reached before. He was learning what it took to become a great musician.
That lesson of hard work and perseverance later became the cornerstone of Silvey’s career at Mizzou.
“Being good is one thing; being great is something else,” he said. “Sometimes students don’t want to be pushed. They just want to punch the clock, but I tell them, ‘We aren’t on auto-pilot today.’
“Many of our kids had good band directors when they were in high school, but they’ve never been pushed to the level you want to be in college,” he added. “Sometimes they’re game for it, and sometimes they aren’t. But as their teacher, I don’t have a choice. Every day it’s pedal to the metal. They deserve my very best. I can’t let the students down.”
It’s that level of dedication that earned Silvey a 2019 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence award. Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright, administrators and staff surprised Silvey this spring with the honor, which includes a $10,000 award.
Silvey, who has been a faculty member since 2009, has taught an array of classes at MU, from graduate music education courses to basic music skills for non-majors. He also is a highly productive scholar, whose research informs his teaching and who uses research findings to improve the tangible skills his students are learning and refining in class.
As an accomplished educator and conductor, Silvey has worked with bands across the United States and brings his vast experience home to MU.
While Silvey remains humble about his achievements — “Of course I have something to offer, but I don’t think I have anything more to offer than anyone else” — those who work with him at Mizzou are eager to share his accomplishments.
“He is a respected leader, turned to by colleagues and administrators for insightful input and with the knowledge that he will follow through and do his best with any task,” said Wendy Sims, director of music education at MU. “His success as a faculty member here, and the esteem with which his research and professional service work are viewed within the profession, make him an inspiring role model for our students.”
Bradley Regier, a graduate student at MU under Silvey’s advising, said Silvey has been one of his greatest mentors and role models during his three years as a graduate student so far.
“Dr. Silvey is the finest mentor and advisor I have had during my years of higher-education learning,” Regier said. “He has allowed my professional interests and goals to guide his advising while providing his own insights that improve my abilities as a teacher and researcher. Furthermore, he carries out all facets of his educational duties at the highest level.”
Silvey did not grow up in a musical family. His dad worked at the power plant across the Ohio River from Silvey’s hometown of Maysville, Kentucky, population 8,800 in 2017. His mom stayed home with Silvey and his older brother and younger sister until she went to work for the local public school district.
Silvey and his siblings each played an instrument: His brother played the trumpet; sister played the alto saxophone; and Silvey played the trombone. He’s the only one in the family who still plays his instrument.
As a boy, Silvey was on the shy side, a typical “band geek,” who felt most comfortable expressing himself through his instrument. As he grew older, however, Silvey shed his inhibitions, especially when he began conducting in college.
But building confidence didn’t come overnight for Silvey.
“Part of the work I do is helping students achieve those same things that I was striving for as an undergraduate,” he said. “It doesn’t always come easily, and it didn’t come easy to me.
“Many people think teaching is something you either got or you don’t; you’re either blessed with this gift or you are not,” he added. “I disagree.”
Silvey believes teaching and performance are skills that can be taught and perfected. But it takes practice, lots of practice.
“I look back at my first few years of teaching, and I just wasn’t any good,” he said. “I wish I could go back and be as good then as I am now, but that’s not how teaching works. It’s a skill. You’re essentially practicing your teaching for the first five years of your career.
“So many teachers quit before they get good,” he continued. “That’s important to remember. Students come to me, and they are upset because they aren’t where they want to be, and I tell them you aren’t going to be for several years. But you’re going to get better. We set them up to be as successful as possible.”
Silvey’s mission as a teacher is evident through his highly recognized work. Most recently, Silvey was asked to present research at the 2017 Midwest International Band and Orchestra Conference and the 2018 International Society for Music Education World Conference. He has served many roles at MU, most notably as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Research in Music Education and the College Band Directors National Association Research Journal.
Silvey’s students also know his interest is genuine and that he cares about their success. MU senior Darren Long recalled Silvey, his academic advisor, helping him through a difficult time his sophomore year when he was in danger of failing a class. Silvey helped him overcome the challenge and end the semester with a passing grade.
“Dr. Silvey is a role model in his character and wisdom,” Long said. “His teaching excels, in part, because his students respect him fully and want to learn from him.”
Over the years, Silvey has learned that above all else — even the music — it’s his own humanity that changes students’ lives.
“Students aren’t going to remember that one rehearsal when we didn’t get everything perfect,” he said. “They’re going to remember you and the types of experiences they had in your class. They are going to remember you as a person.”
Brian Silvey in a glance:
Silvey earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Morehead State University and a master's degree in music education from Wichita State University. Silvey came to MU to teach in 2009 after having earned a doctoral degree in music and human learning from the University of Texas. He is the past recipient of the MU Writing Intensive Teaching Excellence Award, the School of Music Faculty Excellence Award and the Gold Chalk Award for Teaching Excellence. Silvey’s research interests cover techniques in conducting, teacher preparation and music education practices.