By Madeleine LaPlante-Dube, For The Miami Student
Tammy Kernodle, professor of musicology at Miami University, knew from early on music education was inherently a part of her.
“The funny thing is, I changed my major three times — the moment I switched to music education, things fell into place. I think it was just I was going back to who I organically was,” Kernodle said. “I remember my two favorite Christmas gifts that I got [when I was younger]. One year I got a chalkboard — like a real life-size chalk board, so I used to play school with my brothers, which they hated — and I got a guitar.”
It was that early passion that led her to graduate school. Kernodle received an undergraduate degree in choral music education and piano from Virginia State University, and then fate mixed with determination pushed her to pursue her education further when she was selected to be a part of the graduate program at Ohio State University.
“[When I was at Ohio State,] I had a professor who told me -— just point blank in class — that no woman, no person of color and no American composer had ever contributed anything significant to music,” Kernodle said. “This was the ‘90s. There was a part of me that was angry, but a part of me was like, you gotta change the mindset. Much of my work has been about that. Much of my scholarship has been about bringing these voices into history.”
This fall marked the annual honoring of the Effective Educator Award to a member of the Miami Faculty of the students’ choosing. This year’s honoree is Kernodle, a staple of Miami’s music department for the last 17 years.
Kernodle attributes many of her interactions, her love of education, and even her receipt of the Effective Educator award to her parents.
“I’m thankful,” she said. “Thankful to my parents. I feel like this is [more of] an endorsement of them and the lessons that they imparted and the values that they’ve given me.”
Her scholarship has focused mainly on African American music, American jazz and gender and popular music. Her contributions to “Music Quarterly,” “American Music Research Journal” and the anthology “Women’s Voices across Musical Worlds,” are only a fraction of the work she has done to forward the subject.
“My scholarship [is the most important thing I’ve ever done],” she said. “The last 10 years have been completely focused on these peripheral voices that people kind of mention in passing but not really deal with. My mission has been to write these women into the history books. To really honor their legacies.”
Her scholarly involvement, however, extends beyond Miami’s campus as well; she is currently on the board for a new installment in the Smithsonian museum complex called African American Culture and History.
“Two years ago, I was asked to be a consultant to determine, along with their team of people, what you would hear and see on the top floor. The top floor is going to be totally devoted to music,” Kernodle said. “They called me up and said, ‘Would you be willing to work on this project?’ So I was trying to be cool, like, yeah let me look at my calendar. But inside I was like ‘Yes! Yes!’”
For Kernodle, this is more than just another project, calling it a “scholar’s dream.”
“I’m telling you, when I was in seventh and eighth grade, the big reward was that we went to D.C. to the Smithsonian,” she said. “And I love the Smithsonian, I’ve been a history nerd I think from the very beginning, I’m only now acknowledging it.”
Even with her extensive involvement, Kernodle still remains accessible to both her fellow associates and her students. Bruce Murray, Chair for the Music Department and colleague of Kernodle, highlights her professionalism and passion.
“[Kernodle] is a superior scholar with a national reputation, deeply admired by her students and colleagues,” Murray said. “She’s a very gifted teacher, but she has great passion for what she does, tremendous work ethic, and cares most of all about the students.”
The students care right back.
Joia Mitchell-Holman, a senior psychology major and black world studies minor at Miami, has taken two courses with Kernodle in her academic career. Her first class was on recommendation. Her second was on admiration.
“My roommate at the time had told me about her, and she was like, ‘Joia, you need to take this class with this woman.’ So I took it for that,” Mitchell-Holman said. “She could teach literally any subject and I would be engaged in it.”
The Effective Educator Award came as a surprise only to Kernodle. The values she instills in her students extend beyond the classroom, and that seems to resonate.
“What’s my philosophy?” she asked. “My philosophy is ‘Just do it.’ I know it’s Nike. But, it’s ‘Just do it.’ Be about it. You will encounter a lot of people who just talk all day long. But, it’s really about what you do that’s most important.”
Her receipt of the Effective Educator award, however, comes as no surprise to onlookers upon hearing this:
“I feel like I’m the gardener,” Kernodle said. “The seed is already planted because you came here, it’s my job to cultivate it. To help you grow into who you’re gonna be. My hope is that I give you enough in the classroom to help you develop your sense of being, [to understand] that your spirit is maturing in a way that you know the power and uniqueness of your voice. Of your presence. The beauty in that. Enough that when you leave this place, your imprint will be so great.”