Music theory expert Jamie Henke receives UW System’s Underkofler teaching award

music instructor jamie henke

Jamie Henke doesn’t just teach music theory. She helps students apply her lessons to other facets of their lives. This is one reason the UW–Madison Continuing Studies music instructor has won a 2019 Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award.

“I make sure my students have the opportunity to apply what they’re learning while they’re in my classroom,” Henke says. “We perform what we learn in my classes for preschoolers, my college students write music and perform it for their peers, and students in my online courses create beatboxing performances using technology.”

Funded by an endowment from Alliant Energy, the University of Wisconsin System’s Underkofler award recognizes faculty and teaching staff who excel at sharing subject-matter expertise and inspiring students. UW System institutions in Alliant Energy’s service area—UW–Madison, UW–Platteville, and UW Colleges—may nominate candidates for this special accolade.

Learning by doing

Henke, a distinguished faculty associate in Continuing Studies and the Mead Witter School of Music, brings a learn-by-doing approach to her classes whether teaching in person or online. This helps students cultivate a lifelong curiosity about music.

“Learning is a partnership. We learn best from those who integrate what they know with what they do in the classroom,” Henke says. “I enjoy exploring topics together, whether it be with preschool children, the traditional campus undergraduate, or the retired computer programmer in my online composition course.”

Togetherness is also the heart of Henke’s own musical education. She fell in love with music while spending time with her father, a professional musician in a big-band ensemble. Over the years she pursued classical vocal training and learned how to play the piano, organ, and clarinet. She can even find her way around an accordion.

The power of discovery

Continuing Studies gives Henke opportunities to interact with learners at both ends of the age spectrum. Working with preschoolers in Odyssey Junior—an extension of the UW Odyssey Project, which helps low-income adults earn college credit—has helped Henke channel her creativity in new ways by designing music, art, and movement activities tied to children’s books. How Music Works, her music theory class for adults, and Create Your Own Music, her composition class, attract online learners from across the country.

Henke says music theory fundamentals can enrich people’s experiences of music whether they are casual listeners, professional composers, or something in between.

“Understanding the building blocks used to create the music you perform, listen to, or want to write improves your ability to do all of those things. Because of this, it enhances your enjoyment of music,” she explains.

In addition to receiving the Underkofler Award, Henke has been honored with a Bartell Award in the Arts, a Hilldale Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, University Housing’s Honored Instructor award, and more.

But the highest honor is watching students make discoveries that bolster their love of learning, Henke insists.

“Even though I’m technically the teacher, I always think of learning as something we do together,” she says. “It has been a wonderful adventure.”

Visit the Continuing Studies website to find classes Henke teaches, plus other programs for music lovers of all ages.