Piano professor wins Music Teacher of the Year


When it comes to teaching, Tamas Ungár, the 2013 Music Teacher of the Year, does not know how to do it – he just does it.

“Teaching is not a job. It is something extraordinary that one cannot explain. It is just me,” Ungár, who was named the Music Teacher of the Year by the Music Teachers National Association last week.

The MTNA Teacher of the Year Award "recognizes an individual teacher who has made a significant difference in the lives of students, has contributed to the advancement of music in his or her community and is an outstanding example of a professional music educator."

Ungár, also the director of PianoTexas, a program for young pianists, said he supports the MTNA by setting up a booth at the National Conference every March.

For the past 15 years, Ungár has also sent four or five students to the MTNA competitions to practice their pieces.

The MTNA holds a Texas, Southwest and national competition for students and teachers to gain educational experiences, and Ungár said he and his students continue to participate every year for valuable constructive criticism.

"The competitions are great because faculty from different universities come and critique. The critique is worth every penny because it is very important to get feedback from my colleagues about how my students play," he said.

Ungár said over seven of his students have placed second at the national competition and many have won the Texas competition.

A high school student and a university student taught by Ungár won the national competition in the same year for the first time in the history of the MTNA, he said. 

"By caring for his students and sending them to competitions and constantly supporting the MTNA conferences, Ungár was deserving of the award," Linda Stump, MTNA director of competitions, said. 

Ungár said he cares for his students because they are his extended family.

“I have very wonderful, personal relationships with my students. They are very loyal to me, and in turn, I am very loyal to them,” he said. “They are part of my life.”

Ungár said he has more personal relationships with his students because the piano performance curriculum is much different than most majors at TCU.

“It is not only teaching one hour per week, it is ten, twelve people sitting, watching and learning in the studio. It is a place where nobody knocks on the door. Everybody can walk in and ask a question,” he said.

Ungár teaches is a chamber music class every Tuesday from 3-5 p.m, he said. All piano performance majors have the opportunity to play a piece in the PepsiCo Recital Hall and hear critiques from their peers.

Outside of chamber music, Ungár's students schedule sessions with him in his studio to practice pieces with him individually, he said.

Anna Bulkina, a piano performance graduate student from Russia, said Ungár is a great professor because he gives each student private time.

“He has a personal approach to every student, an individual approach. He talks about plans and how we are going to work together to make me a better piano player,” she said.

Bulkina said she has been working with Ungár since 2008 and appreciates that he values the opinions of his students.

“He always wants to know what do you think. He always wants to know your opinion. He always encourages you for new ideas, to think and try out many things, to not be afraid to make mistakes,” she said.

Ungár said he sends his students to the museums in Fort Worth to help with the imagination process that comes with the piano performance major.

“My students can gain an awful lot when they look at a painting, and it looks back at them. Looking at paintings help with imagination, and they have to be part of culture to evoke culture in music,” he said.

Ungár said he loves all the fine arts, but he loves piano the most because he and his students owe it to classical music.

"Classical music by nature is not a very popular thing. That is why popular music is called popular, and classical music is called classical. Popular music will die, but Beethoven and Mozart will never die. It is up to us to make certain they don't die," he said.

Ungár will receive the award at the 2013 MTNA National Conference at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California, on March 13.