Dr. Nelson Amos, a professor of guitar and music history and Ypsilanti storefront owner, will retire in April from EMU after 46 years of teaching at the university. Amos is the oldest faculty member, at 81 years old.
Due to COVID-19, many aspects of both Amos’ store management and teaching methods have been altered.The virus has forced Amos to no longer teach face-to-face.
“I have a lot of fears and worries, because of my age. The people of my generation are the people who have really been affected by this thing . . . I will not go back to face-to-face teaching unless things change drastically, and I don’t anticipate they will,” Amos said.
Even at 81 years of age and what will be 46 years of teaching, Amos is disappointed to leave his position at EMU. He will, however, continue teaching private guitar and lute lessons to anyone that wants to build a greater ability and musical appreciation.
In 1975, Amos was hired by EMU to teach classical guitar, lute, and music history courses. He has taught both graduate and undergraduate levels, varying from large class lectures to one-on-one lessons. In 2004, the Nelson Amos Studio opened in the Ypsilanti Depot Town neighborhood. In addition to continuing to work his studio with his wife, he will share his musical talent on his Youtube channel.
Online Teaching during COVID-19
Despite challenges in online “tone quality,” Amos explained that his decision to transition to online classes has been quite simple for him. He records himself speaking when teaching lecture-based courses, such as music history or music appreciation and Facetimes students when teaching his one-on-one guitar or lute lessons.
The results of the online format have pleasantly surprised him. Amos decided that he saw more improvement in his student’s musical abilities since the transition.
“One thing I think is my students have probably benefited a lot from is being isolated for a while because they have a lot of time to practice. They get bored, so what do [they] do? [They] pick up the guitar and that's a very good thing,“ Amos said. "I think my students have actually made more progress during this time than they did before."
Amos continued to teach free one-on-one lessons with students during the summer months of 2020 as he wanted to ensure his students could continue to grow as musicians during the time they were quarantined.
Guaranteeing all possible connections, while staying socially distant, Amos also created a Facebook group where his students could share and interact with each other. Amos regularly posts videos of himself playing to the group and students can do the same.
Bradley Birkle, a student of Amos and a junior at EMU, felt that from a student’s perspective, Amos has done a great job adjusting to the online atmosphere. Amos found the time to continue the weekly seminars students would have attended prior to COVID-19. During these weekly seminars, students would come together to perform for each other in person.
“It's alright, it’s not like sitting and listening to someone in person ... It is more so the thought that counts. Watching someone enjoy themselves while playing for someone else and giving someone the platform to play for someone else is nice. The fact that he is still doing that, is really nice,” Birkle said.
Continuing his passion at Nelson Amos Studio
In spite of the problems COVID-19 is bringing to local businesses, Amos says business at his studio has actually increased.
At his studio he sells his own paintings and drawings of realistic style portraits, still lifes and landscapes; including some of Ypsilanti’s landmarks. The art studio is also home to a custom framing section, which is run by his wife, Korin Hancherlian-Amos.
The Nelson Amos Studio has shifted to appointment only based shopping and custom framing. Social distancing precautions are being taken and masks are required. When customers do bring in art or prints to be framed, they are asked to stop at the door and remain opposite a table while discussing framing options.
“The capacity that he has to run the shop and be a professor is an eye-opening thing for me,“ Birkle said on Amos’ endeavors as a professor and an artist. “He has been able to pursue his dreams so thoroughly. He has talked about what he wanted to do when he was in his early 20s. He didn’t know whether he wanted to do art or music, but he decided to do music and do art on the side.”
“I have always had this dual interest in both art and music,“ Amos’ said. "It started a long time ago, even when I was in high school, I used to do a lot of drawing and painting and then practicing my musical instruments. So when I went to college, I was both an art major and a music major, but I couldn’t have both so I dropped out of the art program. Now I only came back to it [art] about 20 years ago [and] I started painting again."
Amos has left a lasting impression on many of his students. “He has inspired me to maybe be a teacher one day. I do teach guitar lessons and piano lessons. Being a university professor would be a good career for me . . . seeing the success and the joy that he has in what he is doing has been a major influence on me,” Birkle said.