New Faculty Profile: Dr. Marsha Baxter ☆
It’s impossible to describe Dr. Marsha Baxter’s career without repeatedly invoking those three words. She has just become a full-time faculty member at Teachers College, but she does much more than just teach classes and write scholarly articles.
Baxter is producer, director, and editor of a new documentary called “For the Love of the Mambo.” The film follows the Mambo Legends Orchestra, a group comprised of former members of the Tito Puente Orchestra, as they work with the young musicians of SUNY Potsdam’s Crane Latin Ensemble, a student group that Baxter previously directed.
Baxter said filming the documentary has allowed her to see mambo from the perspective of Latin music icons like bongo player Johnny Rodriguez.
“To understand this music the way a cultural insider does—that’s been fascinating,” she said. She hopes to have the final cut of the film ready by the end of November.
The documentary has already won critical acclaim: it was a finalist in the Film Fund Competition at the American Documentary Film Festival in April 2013. Baxter also hopes to take the film to the coveted Tribeca Film Festival in 2014.
As Baxter learned more about the story of the Mambo Legends orchestra, she felt called to make a documentary.
“I couldn’t just write about it,” she said. “I wanted to capture the imagery as vividly as I could. I knew it would take more than words.”
She’s been working on the project for the past three years.
“It’s been a blast,” she said. “The creative part is really fun.”
Although Baxter’s position at Teachers College has recently been upgraded, she’s hardly new to the college. She is a TC alum herself, and has been teaching classes in the summer since 2006. Baxter’s fall course load includes a student teaching seminar and a comprehensive musicianship class that focuses on cross-cultural perspective. She comes to TC after fifteen years at the Crane School of Music, State University of New York, Potsdam.
Baxter’s music career began with she was in third grade, when her family inherited a piano form a relative. In the seventh grade, Baxter began playing the flute, a skill that earned her the title of “Miss Talent” in her high school yearbook’s senior superlatives.
Baxter took her talent to the University of Maryland, College Park , where she earned a B.S. in Music Education. She also earned an M.M. in Performance of Early Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, and spent the next two years perfecting her Baroque performance techniques in Salzburg, Austria, and The Hague, Netherlands.
Upon returning from Europe, she worked for over a decade as a teacher in a New York City elementary school, P.S. 87.
“I loved it,” Baxter said, when asked about her experience.
Baxter’s student loved her back: when her job was threatened due to budget cuts, the students went out into the street and stopped traffic as a form of protest.
It was through her P.S. 87 experience that Baxter became involved with Teachers College. She became a cooperating teacher for students in Professor Lee Pogonowski’s course, Creativity and Problem-Solving in Music Education. Baxter was so impressed with Pogonowski and her students that she decided to enroll in Teachers College herself, and she received her Ed.D. in 2001. Her dissertation focused on three non-Western flute traditions: the Native American courting flute, the Andean panpipe, and the Chinese dizi.
“I think I’ve always had this curiosity about world musics,” Baxter said.
Baxter sparks the same curiosity in her students, who are awarded the opportunity to learn about music from an international perspective. Last summer, she took a class of students to Chennai, India. The students studied South Indian dancing and learned about the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument. As part of their trip, the students were even invited to sing in the home of composer A. R. Rahman, whose many film credits include the score to Slumdog Millionaire.
“He was our cultural guide to Chennai,” Baxter explained.
Baxter has also travelled several times to Puebla, Mexico, where she created a Spanish Immersion music teaching practicum. Her efforts earned her the Chancellor’s Award for Internationalization from the State University of New York.
When she has time to relax in her home in Harlem, she loves to cook—especially French cuisine. She is also the proud owner of pink Daisy Rock electric bass, which she played in a group with students from SUNY’s Crane School of Music.
“It was a rocker chick band,” she said. “We played lots of Joni Mitchell.”