Campus wide, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Faculty, Music

Woman Wednesday Series: Dr. Jill Terhaar Lewis

By CSU Media | March 3, 2021

To kick off Women’s History Month, we will highlight a Charleston Southern University woman who has influenced their part of campus and our community for the better. Today, the spotlight is on Dr. Jill Terhaar Lewis, professor of music and chair of vocal programs in CSU’s Horton School of Music. She is also the Mid-Atlantic Region Governor of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and is the Co-Artistic Director of St. John the Beloved Concert Series.

Dr. Jill Lewis directs a private vocal lesson. Photo by Richard Esposito

What Music Means to Me

By Jill Terhaar Lewis

Music is a social art. It cannot exist in a vacuum. It matters that someone hears what you are doing and completes the transaction of music in exchange for a reaction. You don’t need a lot of people for this exchange, and, in fact, it can just be an exchange between you and yourself or you and God. But this communication is important and essential. This recent pandemic experience of isolation demonstrates how essential that transaction is. One of the first big moments of hope – when we felt like were actually in communion with each other – was when videos surfaced of the Italians singing from their balconies during quarantine. That expression of spirit and solidarity jumped from the singers in Italy through the internet to the entire world. We processed that song and their feelings into our own and felt as one for that moment. Since then, many have followed suit. New Yorkers cheered the healthcare workers nightly and then sing “New York, New York.” Minnesota Public Radio broadcasted songs like “Lean On Me” on all outlets so that people all over the state could sing it together as one. 

Dr. Jill Lewis poses with vocal students. Photo by Richard Esposito

Music is a glue that links us together. We crave it. We need it to create community and to help us interpret and express emotions. We need it to soothe us. Expressing grief in conversation at a funeral is difficult, but communal hymn singing in the service can evoke tears and bond people together in a beautiful, shared experience. Singing together can also physically link people. They breathe as one, and can even sync up heartbeats, while a release of endorphins soothes us. 

Working in music allows me the privilege of helping to lead that transaction. Being a university professor allows me the honor of teaching students to do the same. It is rewarding to see former students become teachers, musicians, worship leaders, music therapists, and more, facilitating these transactions in our community to communicate our values and feelings to each other at a level beyond our verbal understanding.  


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