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Music Professor named Millsaps College Humanities Teacher of the Year

by Web on November 9, 2017

Dr. Rachel Heard, associate professor of music at Millsaps College, is the 2017 Millsaps College recipient of the Humanities Teacher of the Year award bestowed by the Mississippi Humanities Council.

As a recipient of the award, Heard will give a lecture entitled “Kenner und Liebhaber: Why the Love Affair with Eighteenth-century Keyboard Music Continues” on Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. in room 215 of the Gertrude C. Ford Academic Complex. The lecture is free and open to the public, with a reception scheduled afterward.

The historical development of the piano has been Heard’s research area since her doctoral work at Rutgers University. More than 20 years ago, she purchased her fortepiano, a custom-made replica of an instrument found in Vienna during the 1790s, and has since performed across the United States, Canada, and in Taiwan and Europe.

Heard will discuss during her lecture scholarly approaches to understanding and mastering works from the 18th century, particularly how to think about transferring its unique language to the modern piano.

The development of the piano in the 18th century coincided with the Enlightenment and the huge growth of the middle class, Heard said. By the end of the century, the piano had become the domestic instrument of choice, found in homes all across Europe.

“The piano music from this period is as much loved today as it was when it first appeared,” she said. “Today’s pianists still study the musical language and dialect that emerged from the Viennese keyboard music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, even though the instrument we most often play it on has a very different sound.”

A member of the Millsaps faculty since 2002, Heard received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Rutgers University, and her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School. She serves as chair of the Department of Music at Millsaps. She has received numerous grants and commendations, including the 2008-2009 Millsaps College Outstanding Young Faculty Award.

Her three solo fortepiano recordings featuring the works of Haydn and J.C. Bach can be found on the NAXOS International recording label. Her third solo CD, “Six Sonatas, Op. 5 for Fortepiano, by Johann Christian Bach” was released in August 2015. All recordings can be found at, on and other listening services such as Spotify.

Heard teaches piano at all levels, and serves as the director of the Millsaps Conservatory of Music, a community music school on the Millsaps campus that offers non-credit music lessons and classes to students of all ages.

Dr. Laura Franey, associate dean for Arts and Humanities at Millsaps, said Heard brings out the best in her piano students by nurturing their development with a mix of patient understanding and appropriate challenge.

“She also brings energy, creativity, and innovation to her roles as chair of the Department of Music and director of the Millsaps Conservatory of Music,” she said. “She truly makes a difference in the lives of Millsaps students and in the lives of individuals in the Jackson area who participate in the Conservatory and in the Summer Chamber Music Camp.”

Angela Powell, a junior from Jackson who is majoring in music with a concentration in piano, said Heard’s truthfulness, compassion, and dedication make her an excellent teacher.

“She is honest and upfront which makes me trust her judgment more because she leads her students to think critically,” she said. “She is highly dedicated to her work and leads her students to improve to the best of their capability. Dr. Heard is one of my most trusted mentors whom I look to for guidance and encouragement.”

Christopher Cunningham, a junior from Pass Christian who is a music major with a piano concentration, credits Heard with bringing every facet of music to life.

“She broadens its scope into more than just playing notes,” he said. “She made me realize the physicality of it, the history and evolution of music and its instruments, and the real world demands of a working musician. Her frankness is always cushioned by her compassionate and encouraging nature keeping her students motivated but not discouraged.”

Heard sets high expectations for her students and supports their journeys toward excellence as a unique mother-mentor, said Sarah Altman, a senior from Jackson who is majoring in music and elementary education.

“She is simultaneously the one who will point out the work that we still have left ahead of us and the one who will open up her door when life seems to be falling apart,” she said. “Her passionate content knowledge and talent as a musician cannot be matched, but she will never hold that above us as we seek to gain more knowledge and musicianship ourselves. In other words, she embodies the best of what it means to be an empathetic scholar: endless expertise and unceasing kindness.”

Music plays a role in all facets of Heard’s life. She is married to associate professor of music Dr. Lynn Raley, also a pianist, and their daughter Gillian is a first-year student at Bowdoin College, where she participates in the college orchestra and a popular a cappella group. The three spent the 2012-13 academic year abroad in Taiwan, where Raley taught at the National Chiao Tung University as a Fulbright Scholar.

While in Taiwan, Heard gave lecture-recitals on 18th century performance practice on the fortepiano, and provided performance coaching at the university.

For Heard, teaching music at Millsaps is more far gratifying than teaching at a large research university or a college-level conservatory.

“At Millsaps, I can honestly say that we have strong and dedicated music majors,” Heard said. “We also have students who are reaching beyond their majors to experience all that a liberal arts education has to offer, thus allowing me to further explore my passion for helping students find and develop their creative musical ‘voice.’”

Heard considers studying the arts and humanities an important part of learning what it means to be a human being.

“When we examine the past—whether we are studying world cultures, interpreting historical events, or trying to understand how art is created— we enrich and deepen our perspective on who we are,” she said. “Studying the arts and humanities in a serious and meaningful way is crucial to pondering how we will create our future. There is no other way!”

Heard will be recognized on Feb. 10 during the Mississippi Humanities Council’s 2017 Public Humanities Awards program in Jackson. The agency recognizes outstanding contributions by Mississippians to the study and understanding of the humanities.