Columbia College Chicago

Meet the Faculty

Phil Caldwell


Where did you receive your undergraduate education? I have a B.M. in piano performance, Sherwood Conservatory of Music.

Where did you receive your postgraduate education? I have a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts, Columbia College Chicago. 

What is your hometown? Cedar Springs, Michigan.

What is your preferred age to teach? I prefer to teach age 16 and up.

What is your preferred student level to teach? As a piano teacher I prefer beginning to intermediate levels.  As a vocal coach I limit my studio to musical theater, popular and jazz styles and I extend my work to more advanced professionals who are preparing for audition or performance.

How long have you been at Sherwood? I've been at Sherwood since 2004.

What do you want to impart to your students through your teaching? The fusion of technique with interpretive and analytical skills.  I have an interdisciplinary background and have studied music, voice, theater and dance.  While I respect individual learning styles, I encourage my students to explore auditory, visual, and kinesthetic experiences in studying music and performance. Technique frees us so we can get beyond the notes, rhythms and words on the page in order to create something multi-dimensional.  Performance involves a lot of analytical and interpretive work in addition to technical skill building.  Learning a variety of efficient practice habits is also critical.

Are there specific methods/techniques that you use in your teaching that may be important to share with new students? Every student is different and I use a lot of visual imagery and analogy to reach the individual.  I do use traditional methods such as scales, arpeggios, exercises and vocalizes to improve technique.  I focus a lot on releasing physical tension which gets in the way of performance.  I encourage students to deconstruct/reconstruct and examine each piece from a variety of angles.  As a piano teacher I also talk about theory and analysis.  As a vocal coach I address technical issues such as breath support and vowel/consonant placement, but also work extensively on phrasing, stylistic choices, text analysis, and physicality.

What do you most enjoy about teaching? When a student experiences the freedom and presence that good technique and preparation can bring to a performance. I also enjoy connecting with the individual and the intuitive process of exploring what each student needs to hear in that moment.

Describe your musical pursuits outside of Sherwood. In addition to teaching at Sherwood, I am an adjunct faculty member in the theater departments at Columbia College Chicago and Roosevelt University.  I have worked as a music director and performer at a variety of Chicago venues including American Theater Company, Annoyance Theatre, Davenport's Cabaret, Emerald City Theatre Company, the Goodman Theatre, Gorilla Tango Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, and the national touring company of The Second City.

What is your earliest musical experience or best musical memory? Being voted 'most musical' in the fifth grade.

Please describe one of your favorite teachers or mentors. My college piano teacher, Justin Page, who exhibited a tremendous passion for music and performance. My favorite quote is from Daniel Barenboim, who said "I practice like a scientist so I can play like a poet."

Who is your favorite composer or what is your favorite musical period? I listen to all sorts of musical styles and periods and really don't have a favorite.  In terms of musical theater composers I do think Stephen Sondheim is brilliant and I love the songs of Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel.

About you: I'm thrilled to be here and to help others grow as musicians and performers!