With a few strokes on his electronic keyboard, John Toomey lays down the hard bop of Horace Silver for the more than 80 students spread out across hundreds of miles for his history and aesthetics of jazz class.
He plunks out a catchy portion of Silver’s “Sister Sadie” to highlight the gospel-like sound and repetitive melodies the jazz legend favored.
Then, with the touch of a button from his desk at the head of the classroom, students are able to see an overhead view of his hands on the keyboard displayed on television monitors that hang in their classroom.
All the better to observe the technique jazz players used in writing their tunes.
Another push of the button changes the screen image to PowerPoint slides Toomey has created, detailing Silver’s stylistic trademarks, and yet another camera focuses on a student with a question. Several hundred miles away, the student gets her answer and the class continues.
Toomey’s music class is among the most innovative applications of Old Dominion’s TELETECHNET network, which links students at distant sites to classes broadcast from the university’s Norfolk campus in real time. His teaching via TELETECHNET was, in part, what earned him an award recently as one of this year’s State Council of Higher Education Outstanding Faculty.
Toomey’s history and aesthetics of jazz has Virginia students enrolled from as far away as Roanoke (285 miles), Annandale (186 miles) and Richmond (90 miles), to Virginia Beach (20 miles). They’re receiving class material that may, in fact, be more efficiently delivered via TELETECHNET than in a traditional classroom setting.
“It goes out over TV and people are focusing on it,” the associate professor of music said. “The audio-visual backup that it calls for really helps. There are tools that are available here that bring the material home and more focused.”
His students largely agree and praised Toomey in evaluations that were part of his SCHEV Award nomination.
“Mr. Toomey is an excellent instructor who makes his lectures very exciting as well as informative,” said one student in his history and aesthetics of jazz class. “Thanks to Mr. Toomey for introducing me to this new style of musical expression. I look forward to making more self-discoveries in the world of jazz.”
Another said, “Professor Toomey is a very modest, very talented person. I wonder why is he teaching? This could only be to our benefit.”
Toomey was one of only 11 faculty members in the commonwealth selected this year to receive a SCHEV Award, the ultimate recognition for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities.
“I feel incredibly honored,” Toomey said. “Just sitting at the luncheon for the Old Dominion nominees and listening to the credentials, I didn’t think anything would come of it. It’s very nice to feel your teaching is something they look for to reward.”
Toomey was recognized during a ceremony at the State Capitol March 2 and at a reception at the Executive Mansion in Richmond. He received a check for $5,000 appropriated by the Virginia General Assembly and an engraved plaque.
More than 71 faculty statewide were nominated for this year’s awards. Since the program’s inception in 1986, 151 faculty members have received the honor – 10 of them from Old Dominion. “Professor Toomey is an incredibly valuable member of the university faculty,” said Old Dominion Provost Jo Ann Gora. “He gives unstintingly of his time and talent to his students and to the university community. His students…rave about his ability to mentor, coach, encourage and inform. And, as a musician and performer, he brings so much talent to the stage. He is delight to work with, to listen to and to learn from.”
Toomey’s teaching earned him Old Dominion’s TELETECHNET Teacher of the Year Award in 1995, the first year it was given by the university.
He also teaches computer and musical instrument digital interface technology, recording and electronic music, jazz improvisation, sight singing, and applied jazz.
Toomey brings tremendous musical credibility to his work. He’s the former musical director for jazz great Maynard Ferguson and a frequent performer at clubs in Hampton Roads.
He has recorded several compact discs of his jazz works and has performed with Cab Calloway, the Count Basie Band small group, Paul Anka and Jerry Vale.
A native of Goshen, N.Y., Toomey is a graduate of the Crane School of Music, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his master’s.
He joined the Old Dominion faculty in 1990.