Vasili Byros, associate professor in music theory and cognition at the Bienen School of Music, has received the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence award.

A total of seven Northwestern University faculty members were honored with 2017 University Teaching Awards for outstanding performance and dedication to undergraduate education at Northwestern.

Byros is department chair of music studies and coordinator of the advanced undergraduate music theory curriculum at the Bienen School. He teaches a sophomore honors sequence designed to engage undergraduates in a new curriculum built fundamentally around the principle of learning by doing. His reimagining of the year-long course resulted in an innovative, hands-on sequence that combines creative and analytical perspectives. Students critically examine the musical language of 18th-century composers and then imitate and recreate the styles through original compositions.

“I have written things in this class that I did not know I was capable of, and it is all thanks to the devotion and tireless effort that Professor Byros puts in to this class,” one student noted. Another wrote, “Professor Byros intentionally pushes the musical and philosophical implications to the absolute limits in the most intellectually challenging way.”

Byros describes teaching as “continually creating and sharing knowledge,” and he links this to the Humboldtian idea of higher-level education, which highlights the fluidity and ever-evolving nature of knowledge. Student comments reflect this perspective, with one writing, “He preached autodidacticism – the art of teaching oneself,” and another noting that “Byros emphasized that learning is not something that stops. To teach oneself to identify gaps in knowledge and then seek to fill these gaps is a skill that was central to his course.”

While students highly value Byros’s ingenuity as a musician, scholar and teacher and his “encyclopedic knowledge of the course content,” they say it is his approachability that makes him an inspiring mentor outside the classroom.

“He gives attention to each of us as scholars and as individuals,” a student wrote. Another student expressed that everyone in Byros’s class had personal and inspirational individual meetings with him. Students’ high regard is reflected in twice naming him to the Faculty Honor Roll.

Professor Byros received his Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University and an M.A. in music theory and music history and a B.A. in music from Queens’s College, CUNY.

University Teaching Awards

Recipients of the University Teaching Awards will receive $7,000 as a salary supplement and $3,000 for professional development each year of the three-year term. An additional $3,000 award is given to the recipient's home department to support activities that enhance undergraduate education.

Byros and the other award recipients will be honored at an installation ceremony at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 18, in the Guild Lounge in Scott Hall on the Evanston campus. All members of the Northwestern community are invited to attend the ceremony and reception.

Previous Bienen School winners of University Teaching Awards include: Hans Jørgen Jensen (2010), Gail Williams (2005), Frederick Hemke (2004), Mallory Thompson (2003), and John S. Buccheri (2001) for the McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence Award; Susan Piagentini (2009) for the Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer award; and Jesse Rosenberg (2006) for the Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Clinical Professor award.

  • Vasili Byros
  • music theory and cognition