Wednesday March 29, 2017

Faculty Profile: Neil Florek

Neil Florek, University of Dayton philosophy lecturer and blues musician, is asking the big questions in life and making music and community along the way.

Upon entering his office, you can find him practicing his blues guitar — inventing an interactive lesson plan for class, a set for his local shows or perhaps just riffing for his own pleasure. Blues music and various philosophy books are stacked high and wide on his shelves, revealing the mingling of his two greatest interests. It may be one of the few places you find him alone.

Florek’s teaching is wrapped up in communal, experiential learning. As students take his Philosophy of Music classes, they quickly learn that education will not just happen through exploration of recorded music, but also by stepping into the experience of music: listening to it live and even making it. His passion for a communal musical encounter is clear and powerful, as he calls students to not just read music philosophy on paper, but to really test it in their own lives.

“A lot of my students claim to not have made music, not even around a campfire,” Florek said. “So if we’re going to have all this abstract, philosophical theorizing about the nature and value of music… Have an experience — a direct experience with music.”

This could mean anything for his students. Florek reveres University music programs such as ArtsLIVE that provide opportunities to hear music from around the world. Students are required to attend at least one of these concerts. These performances complement the in-class musical components of listening to recordings, having classmates who play an instrument perform, or even improvisation sessions with each student on a handheld percussion instrument.

Every part of it, comfortable or uncomfortable, is to get students in the mindset of investigating the philosophical concepts they learn through the laboratory of their own experience.

“It’s not the banking concept of education, where you fill people up with knowledge or information,” Florek said. “It’s not just, ‘You need to know this.’ We’ve all been there, and I get that, but I try to give them a way of thinking about the value of music, where they’re going beneath the surface of their own lives by using theories as catalysts.”

Florek’s unique teaching style stands out to students and faculty alike.

“His students appreciate his infectious enthusiasm and his ability to make complex material both interesting and understandable,” said Rebecca Whisnant, philosophy department chair. “He can always be found at extracurricular events for students and faculty. We are fortunate to have him with us.”

The same zeal can be found in his personal performances. As a working blues musician, Florek — also known as “Harmonica Neil” — plays shows any chance he gets. For each one, his desire is to please the crowd while displaying the roots of American music. As the audience varies, so does his content, enabling listeners to connect with and enjoy what they are hearing. From children’s folk songs to Muddy Waters — what matters to Florek is serving his listeners while maintaining his own aesthetic convictions.

What’s in the future for Florek? Long-term, he sees no end in sight for his pursuit of providing musical experiences here in the department of philosophy. Short-term, his next show is just around the corner — live at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 22, at the 2nd Street Market in Dayton.

Near or far, you can bet Florek will never cease to look to connect with those around him through music.

Florek holds a master’s degree in philosophy from University of Purdue West Lafayette and a bachelor’s degree from University of Purdue Calumet. He has been a department of philosophy faculty member for three years. He lives in Oakwood with his wife, Phyllis Bergiel, and his two sons, Anders and Nelson.

- Nikki Kamp, ‘17

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