John received his doctorate in 1994 from the University of Chicago, where he studied composition with John Eaton and Ralph Shapey. A teacher of piano, composition, music theory and a variety of music appreciation classes for adults, John has also studied composition with Dominick Argento and Morris Cotell.
In 2006, the Graham School of General Studies (University of Chicago) honored John with an Excellence in Teaching Award:
Introduction of John Gibbons, Humanities, Arts, and Sciences
By Sylvia Fergus, Graham School Program Coordinator
November 22, 2006
John Gibbons has been responsible for creating one of the most favorable conditions for learning at the Graham School since he began teaching courses in classical music here in 1994. In addition to being a composer and an instructor of piano and music at the Cappelli Institute of Music, John teaches 2-3 courses every quarter here at the Graham School with unflagging energy and enthusiasm. Combining his understanding of the literature, politics, history and arts of a composer’s lifetime with this extensive knowledge of music, John creates a vivid historic context for his students. How to perceive the music itself gets equal attention in the classroom, as John helps students build their vocabulary of musical terminology and refine their listening skills. In addition to bringing in a variety of recordings, John spontaneously illustrates points at the piano, playing entire passages or repeating a single phrase to illustrate a subtle difference of interpretation or sound.
His students return year after year, appreciating the high standards he sets for himself as he covers dozens of new and favorite topics, exploding with information, never tiring of the challenge. They write:
“John is the most articulate, passionate, inspiring, and brilliant teacher I have had in my experience at the Graham School.” “He literally bursts with the knowledge.” “At the end of every session I walk out feeling that I have been in the presence of excellence.”
John’s passion and intelligence are balanced by his gentle nature and genuine love of teaching. John has the wonderful ability to engage and challenge every student in his class whether they are quite knowledgeable about classical music or they are listening to it for the first time. “He gives himself so thoroughly and attentively to each student and is very interested in the students’ ability to grasp the subject.” “As an older student returning to the classroom, I was apprehensive, but also hopeful that I might learn something outside my realm of knowledge. John Gibbons dispelled my qualms at the first class. He was warm and welcoming and extremely interested in facilitating learning.” “It is obvious that he loves teaching and sharing the subject with us.”
When the committee read through John’s nominations we were all struck by the same thing—how so many of his students said that studying with John had transformed some aspect of their lives. So I would like to close by sharing three last student quotes.
“When I retired in 1996, I had a difficult time finding areas of interest. I stumbled upon John Gibbons in August of 1997 and I truly became passionate about knowing more. Since then, I have enrolled in 18 of John’s classes, am taking piano lessons; regularly attend the Chicago Symphany Orchestra and Lyric Opera performances, and go to music festivals. John Gibbons has played an important role in making my retirement the best it can be.”
“Inspired by John’s classes, I found myself wanting to play the violin, and despite starting so late in life and with no previous experience, I am doing exactly that – taking private lessons and playing the violin.”
“I live in Indiana, and drive up especially to take John’s courses because I wanted to learn about music. Except for piano lessons, and a course in college, I had never learned anything about music. John as opened up a new world for me… I have learned more from John than any other instructor at the Graham School. I have subscribed to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra because— now I know how to listen— and how to appreciate music.”
John, we celebrate the consistent excellence of your teaching, we thank you for your dedication and loyalty to the Graham School, and we honor the gift of inspiration you so generously give to all your students. It is with great pleasure that we name you the first recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Awards for the division of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences.