Faculty member since: 2007
Education: Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; M.M. in Music History, West Virginia University; B.A., West Virginia Wesleyan College
Dr. Travis Stimeling holds up his thumb and forefinger and pinches about an inch of air. "This is the range of my knowledge … the rest of the room is everything else." The assistant professor of music says that the most important aspect of learning is being receptive and willing to have an open mind to new possibilities. No one should be content with just the knowledge they already have, he says. "It is really easy to have that mindset coming out of college. I know I did," he remembers.
Because of this, he works to show students that they can find new avenues beyond what's taught in the classroom. But it's not as easy as it sounds.
"You have to convey excitement and interest to someone else to get them excited and interested," he says.
This excitement and interest was a prominent part of Stimeling's education. Throughout his life, passionate teachers have served as inspiration to him, he explains.
"Teachers have the power to open new pathways and doors for the students they inspire," he says. "Because of this, I knew I needed to teach."
Stimeling loves teaching at Millikin, where he says the small school atmosphere allows him to get to know students individually. Although he teaches courses in music history and ethnomusicology (the study of the relationship between music and culture), he was also drawn to Millikin by the level of integration in the music program compared to many larger schools.
"At Millikin, I can break down barriers and teach the whole musician," he says.
Stimeling recently wrote his first book, "Cosmic Cowboys and New Hicks: The Counter-Cultural Sounds of Austin's Progressive Country Music Scene," which he explains was an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation and his West Virginian roots. A lifelong country music fan, his dissertation explored the progressive country music scene in Texas. Here, he found it fascinating how they established and articulated their own identities while maintaining a collective identity as a scene. After finishing his dissertation, he felt as if it could be tightened and expanded into a book.
The book has been very well received. Dr. Gary Hartman, director of the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University, says it's "the most engaging and informative examination of progressive country music to date ... This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the rich, complex, and colorful history of American music."
However, Stimeling's focus on country music didn't end there. While writing his book, he realized that there weren't many resources on country music, so he has committed himself to writing an anthology of source readings in country music history from 1922 to the present. While on a sabbatical leave in 2010, Stimeling transcribed articles into chapters and wrote critical introductions and annotations. He hopes to finish the project within the next year and publish it soon thereafter. To reach this goal, he says he writes each day.
"Just like you'd practice an instrument, you need to practice writing," he says. "I try to write at least 200 words a day."
Aside from his book, Stimeling recently received praise for an international "Critical Voices Project" that he brought to Millikin. The overall project started in spring 2011, and the students in Millikin's "Music and the Environment" course were invited to participate in the fall of the same year. In this program, students are engaged in serious musicological reading, covering challenging subject matter ranging from acoustics to birdsongs. After each student writes a critique of a book of their choice, it is peer reviewed by students in the course. From eight student submissions, the top five student works were sent to the University of Guelph for further review and feedback from students there. All five of the works sent to Guelph were published in early January.
Stimeling and Critical Voices Project founder Kimberly Francis are working on a research project on the pedagogy of peer review that will be presented at a June conference.
In addition to teaching and writing books, Stimeling is still an active musician. He continues to sing and play guitar with grad school buddy Matt Meacham in Southern Illinois and the St. Louis area. Along with Meacham, Stimeling occasionally performs locally with Dave Burdick [associate professor of music] and Andy Heise [Tabor School of Business program coordinator] in the band, "Los Gringos Del Corn."
Through his accomplishments as a writer, teacher and musician, he shows the rewards of being a lifelong learner. As he continually explores the world of music through his external projects, he inspires his students to learn outside of school and never to be afraid of jumping into knowledge headfirst.
by Ty Warden '13