University of South Carolina

Bob Jesselson and student
Kristian Ring and Bob Jesselson in a one-on-one studio lesson

Cello professor receives USCís top teaching award

Some people jog or do yoga for daily routine; Bob Jesselson starts each day by playing a Bach suite on his cello.

Far from dull ritual, playing the pieces requires concentration and energy and serves as both an aerobic workout and mind-stimulating exercise for the School of Music professor. Every day, Jesselson said, he discovers some nuance or previously unseen layer of expression in a composition that invigorates his passion for music even more.

Not surprising that he has instilled similar enthusiasm in many of his cello students since joining Carolina in 1981—or that he has been named the University’s 2010 Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year, Carolina’s most prestigious award.

“Music instruction is a terrific way to teach and to get to know our students. It’s a one-on-one method that harkens back to an ancient way of teaching,” said Jesselson, the University’s first music professor to receive the distinguished teaching award since 1957 when it began. “It’s very effective but very time consuming.”        

Time consuming, yes. Ask him to tally the hours he spends in one-on-one instruction with 20 students every week, plus rehearsal for student performances, and his own music practice, and, well, it’s understandable why Jesselson winces and says only, “My wife would love to see me cut back my work hours.”

But not his students. Some begin their tutelage with him while in middle school or high school, then sign on for several more years of Jesselson’s instruction and mentoring in the School of Music.

Dr. Jesselson was my teacher for 10 years, and if it weren't for him, I am sure that I wouldn't be playing the cello now, and I definitely wouldn't be teaching it to others,” said Sarah Jackson, a USC graduate who’s earning a master’s degree at Roosevelt University in Chicago in Suzuki pedagogy and performance. “He's very much like a coach, always there before a recital for the pep talk and always the first to give the congratulatory hug when it's over. He pushes his students to the limit of what they are capable of doing and has high expectations.”

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