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SU Strummers

Written by Mike Thee
April 21, 2015

When asked who her favorite guitarist is, Susan Palmer seems overwhelmed at the enormity of having to single out just one or even a few artists. "There's so many," she says. After a long, discerning pause, she responds, "I hope one day to say it's one of my students." 

Palmer, adjunct professor in Performing Arts and Arts Leadership, is most comfortable when talking about her students. That's not to say she's anything but gracious in answering a few perfunctory questions about herself. Such as how she her return to SU as a professor in 2006 after having graduated as a student in the 1990s felt like a homecoming. Or how she considers Brian Nova, formerly director of jazz and guitar studies for SU's music program, one of her most significant influences. 

Yet it's not long before the guitar instructor is gently reorienting the conversation to focus on her students. "The guitarists here at SU have so many things going on…and I just want to shine a light on that." 

Clearly she is proud. That pride comes across in the blog she maintains to highlight the accomplishments of her current and former students. And her pride is evident when she talks about the thrill of going to see her former students play shows at local venues and meet their friends and family. 

Palmer teaches guitar lessons to approximately 12 students each quarter. Most of the instruction is one-on-one; some is in small-group settings. Students of all abilities enroll-some are beginners, others more seasoned. A few of her students have been faculty and staff. 

"It's all over the map," she says. "As a teacher, I really enjoy the variety of students-that continues to make my job interesting." 

Palmer's students may be a diverse bunch, but there's a common thread to what they learn in her classes. "In the lessons what I try to do is give them a foundation of fundamental music concepts-all the nuts and bolts-but things that are very important for them to be successful musicians and music students at a university," she says. Her teaching extends to printed form as Palmer has authored two volumes of The Guitar Lesson Companion: A Method that Prepares Students to Play Jazz, Blues, Rock and Folk Music.

Palmer herself took up guitar when she was 11. "I've always wanted to play," she says. "It was in me since I was born." She studied music at Gonzaga University before transferring to SU in order to study with Nova and pursue the type of music in which she was most interested in playing, jazz. She graduated with a major in English with a minor in philosophy. 

Palmer says her experience as an undergraduate helps her relate to her students. "I remember very strongly what it felt like to be their age and really want to do music but not know how. Like Brian Nova told me, I always tell my students that if they really have a bug for this (playing music professionally), I will help them in any way I can." 

And many of them, with Palmer's help, do get that shot. On any given night at least one of Palmer's current or former students can be found playing at a gig somewhere in Seattle or elsewhere. 

Palmer sees the full force of an SU education coming into play and benefiting the musicians-whether they're writing lyrics or booking gigs. "They're utilizing skills they learned in their business classes, their English classes, their religious classes." 

"I'm very happy to be here at Seattle U where students get a well-rounded education. This is a very unique place to teach."