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LaCourse’s Course Work Begins with the Viola

A Metcalf Cup and Prize winner knows the value of a homemade pie

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Metcalf Cup and Prize winner Michelle LaCourse spoke to us about a variety of topics. Click on a bulleted point below to hear her thoughts.

When Michelle LaCourse decided she wanted to attend a top-level music school to play the viola, the odds weren’t good. Most accomplished viola players learn the instrument as children, but LaCourse had started as a teenager. She comes from a family of nonmusicians; expensive private lessons were not in the cards.

But a teacher spotted her potential and offered her extra lessons for a fair price — a homemade pie. With practice and guidance, LaCourse caught up and made her way to the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University.

Her experience with that teacher, David Holland, inspired LaCourse to become a teacher herself.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have studied the viola with teachers who believe in personalized, caring, and dedicated mentoring,” says LaCourse, a winner of the 2009 Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching. “So I strive to pass along all I can with that same commitment to each student.”

Now LaCourse is a school of music associate professor of music in viola and chair of the string department. Her student evaluations glow: “She cares so much about her students.” “She even gives extra lesson time.” “Wonderful!”

Mastery of the instrument is a class goal, but LaCourse says there is much more to teaching than approaching the instrument.

“Some of my former students have gone on to professional playing or teaching,” she says. “But the work ethic, the organizational skills, the encouragement to explore many angles, the physical and energetic self-awareness, and the communication and personal skills that have been developed in our work together will be of great benefit in the rest of their day-to-day lives.”

Two winners of the Metcalf Cup and Prize and the winner of the Metcalf Award were announced at Senior Breakfast on May 1. The prizes will be presented at Commencement on Sunday, May 17.

Established in 1973 by a gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (SED’35, Hon.’74), a former faculty member and chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees, the honors are an expression of gratitude to teachers regarded by students as defining figures. The Cup and Prize comes with $10,000.

A committee selects the winner using statements from the nominees. Letters of recommendation from students are key, drawing committee members into the classroom to experience a professor’s energy and enthusiasm.

Read yesterday’s feature about Metcalf Award winner Peter Busher, a College of General Studies professor and chair of the division of natural science. Check back tomorrow to read about this year’s second Cup and Prize winner, Tom Gilmore, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of biology and director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

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