Arts Faculty Feature – Jeff Torbert

Jeff Torbert is a Halifax based guitar-guru and instant-harmony-provider who has performed at a variety of venues, from bars and churches to the grand stage of the Rebecca Cohn with Rich Aucoin and Symphony Nova Scotia. To supplement the “20 bucks for gas” provided at these shows, he shares his knowledge and experience with the music students of Dalhousie and Acadia University. He primarily teaches guitar lessons, but also leads courses focused on the virtue of actively engaging in listening and playing music. As part of the curriculum shift that the Acadia School of Music is enacting for next year, he has created an interdisciplinary course on improvising and the creative process.

My personal experience with Torbert has been overwhelmingly positive. I have had him as a professor for Musicianship Lab (now “Playing and Hearing Music”), as well as the opportunity to play with him in ORO Orkestra last semester. In both contexts, his energy was vibrant and constructive – he consistently wears excellent sweaters and an award-winning smile.

As a professor, his positivity radiates into the classroom and helps students cope with the overwhelming nature of a career in music. In his courses he pushes students to engage with their ears and to develop personal relationships with the sounds around them. He is known for starting his classes with a therapeutic “active listening” activity where students are asked to be silent and open their ears to stretch their sphere of listening. He encourages expansion of the perimeters of what you can hear, pushing you to listen beyond the room to the rest of the building and outside. An additional challenge is to hear the various sounds with an open mind and to separate them from any previous associations that you have.

We often forget to consider that our professors are also working professionals. The members of the music faculty at Acadia have a plethora of projects outside of the School of Music. As mentioned previously, Jeff performs frequently around Halifax, but he also writes and records his own experimental jazz/pop infused music. In 2009, Jeff released “This Weather Honest,” an album nominated for multiple awards including Best Jazz Recording in the 2010 ECMAs. The musical setting is a jazz sextet, but Torbert provides a fresh angle using pop and groove influences. He takes it one step further in his 2011 album “Urban Poultry and Other Hopes,” (also nominated for Best Jazz recording in 2013) where the music is tied together more conceptually creating an overarching theme. Currently, Jeff is writing a whole new set of material to play when he travels to Europe this spring to tour with his co-experimenters.

Fun Faculty Feature Facts:

Jeff Torbert loves Björk and has a passion for root vegetables, especially beets. He makes his own sunset-coloured juice and special salad dressings.

Quickly Quilled Quote:

“Even outside of music, we’re all improvising all the time within this societal structure called life – whenever we talk, walk, think. Might as well appreciate it! And after that, why not strengthen it?” – Jeff Torbert

Students Saying Some Stuff:

“Jeff is a fantastic person and teacher. He’s enthusiastic and passionate about what he does and it’s obvious that he wants every one of his students to reach for their fullest potential both musically and personally.” – Mia Clow

“One thing I’ve always liked about Jeff is his ability to give new perspective to things. Jeff can offer a lot of different approaches to both musical and non-musical situations.” – Tevon Tynes

Coworker Comment:

“Jeff Torbert is a treasure – a calm, capable, and kind colleague. He asks a lot of his students and they benefit from the challenge. Acadia is lucky to have him.” – Nic D’Amato