UNO professor named Nebraska Music Teacher of the Year

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By Sean Robinson – Senior Staff Writer

Music theory professor Ken Bales is currently over 6,000 miles away on a trip to China with the UNO Jazz Ensemble. On the trip, Bales is discussing and discovering with students the concepts of art and music.

Though he’s visiting a country with a very different culture, Bales is content. After all, there he can find music and his students, the two most meaningful things in his life.

Early in October, Bales received news that he had been named Teacher of the Year at the Nebraska Music Teachers Association Conference held at Hastings College. A professor at UNO since 1984, Bales said he felt “humility” regarding the recognition.

“I’m sure he reaches his students with his smile and a twinkle in his eye,” NMTA member Jo-Riecker Karl said. “He also has many musical experiences and travels which carries over into the classroom. His students are consistently winners in competitions.”

To Bales, melodies and rhythms are a second language. Born in Nevada, Mo., Bales first began playing the piano at age six. Music continued to play a role in his life. He wanted to become a professional after finding success and influence from playing in his high school’s band.  Bales completed his undergraduate degree in Springfield, Mo. and a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees at the University of North Texas.

Before taking his position at UNO, Bales taught music for K-12 and also at Western Illinois University. Ultimately, the urban setting and unique teaching styles drew Bales to UNO.

“If I had to try to step back and look at [my success] objectively, I’d say that I strive to respect students as people first, then expect them to perform at a high level of proficiency,”Bales said. “I try to guide them to be better than they think they can be on their own.”

Bales has received much praise for his work. He was named Nebraska Composer of the Year twice by NMTA, served on the board of directors for the Society of Composers Inc. and received awards from the American Composers Foundation.

His work “Decadanse” was played in France in 2000 to celebrate the millennium. In the United States, his pieces have been played for the U.S. Army in Washington D.C. and in 42 other states. His work has also been played globally, reaching audiences in six countries.  

Music never escapes Bales. From turning to Bach in times of need to running rhythms in his mind during his every action, it’s clear that the music composes the man, even when he’s 6,000 miles away from home.

“[In the future] I want to learn to be a better musician and a better teacher of music,” Bales said. “I’ve been lucky in my life so far and I hope to continue doing more of the same, just better.”

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