William Riley

"Musicianship" isn't just a class at Settlement; it's a level of proficiency as a musician that's achieved over time.

"It doesn't happen overnight," says William Riley, who has taught Musicianship, formerly known as Fundamentals of Music, at Settlement for over 20 years.

Riley, a Philadelphia native, plays both piano and organ; he carries a large number of scores with him on days he teaches, and can be heard practicing formidable organ works by composers such as Langlais and Jongen. At Settlement, though, his domain is Musicianship, which provides grounding in music theory and concepts to students as young as six years old. 

At weekly class sessions, students work on learning all of the major and minor scales, identifying intervals, and growing comfortable with identifying and playing pitches on the piano - even if the piano isn't their primary instrument.

"Everything the students do in my classes, they must do at the keyboard," Riley says.

Ear training is a major part of the class, and each student will take his or her turn at the keyboard, playing scales and identifying pitches and intervals. "It's a good way of getting them off their chair and up on their feet," he says.

With all of his classes, no matter the age range, he encourages interaction, discussion and, above all, respect.

"Everyone in class has a right to be heard and seen," he says, "I want each student to listen to and to respect the person next to them."

With a lengthy career in teaching and performing even before coming to Settlement, Riley has enjoyed seeing his students make progress over the years. He's especially pleased when he hears from former students who have gone on to study music and have found they have an advantage over their peers due to the knowledge gained in his classes.

"I like to impart knowledge, of course, but what I really like to see the students developing and see the lessons taking hold," he says.

Musicianship seems to benefit students more and more as they return to it each year, although Riley calls the summer break "devastating" to students' memories. Each new year starts with a lengthy period of review, shoring up material from the previous year.

"They don't always see it," he says, "but they do end up learning from each other."




William Riley
Musicianship faculty at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch
Faculty member since 1994