Ray Cornils 12 Highlights from his work in Maine

Ray Cornils, Pedagogy, and Music Education

Successful teachers, regardless of their discipline, all have two things in common: they are passionate about teaching and passionate about what they teach. So it is with Ray Cornils, who retires from his 45 year-long music pedagogy career on August 31. His passion for music education begins with his love of the organ and expands with his natural interest in educating musicians.

“Growing up, I fell in love with the organ through listening to performances at my church and decided that was what I wanted to study,” says Mr. Cornils about how he chose his profession.

His teaching résumé stands as a testament to his love of organ music and music education. He has taught at Bowdoin College, the University of Southern Maine, the Portland Conservatory of Music, and at numerous middle and high schools throughout Maine through the educational programs offered by the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ. Many of his students have gone on to become professional organists or harpsichordists and church musicians.

A highlight for Mr. Cornils is seeing the national and international success some of his students have garnered. Katelyn Emerson studied organ with Mr. Cornils while attending high school. In 2016, she won the American Guild of Organists’ National Young Artists’ Competition in Organ Performance, one of the highest achievements an American organist can hope to attain. She has also won several international awards and has performed in Europe and Russia.

Upon reflecting on her studies with Mr. Cornils, Emerson remembers herself as a high-energy adolescent who wanted to play fast at the expense of accuracy.

“I was a runaway train as a performer, and Ray had a very calm demeanor that was the perfect counter to my high-energy. One thing he would say that helped me slow things down was, ‘Imagine you are holding a live hand grenade, and if you play a wrong note it will explode. Play slow enough so that there’s no chance that will happen.’ Ray taught me how to listen and how to practice. I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for him.”

Mr. Cornils’ philosophy of teaching centers on the idea that people learn differently, and so curricula must be adjusted to suit the needs of the learner.

“I have discovered that I first must know the student, what they can and cannot do, and how they think, and then fashion a course of study that fits the individual that they are. I try never to do for the student what they can do for themselves.”

To music performers, Mr. Cornils offers this advice:

“Quietly and thoroughly discern what motivates you as a musician and what musical talents you possess. The combination of these two factors, and your awareness of them, will help you become the musician you are rather than the musician someone else wants you to be. Be authentically you.”

And to future music educators, Mr. Cornils believes it is essential that you “listen to your students and be present to their learning process. Give them a challenge and the tools to meet the challenge.”

Mr. Cornils’ final performance will be the Kotzschmar Christmas with Cornils concert on Tuesday, December 19, at Merrill Auditorium. Click here to purchase tickets at PortTIX.