Step, leap: new instructor Professor Pratte reflects on her time as a student and her new role 

After the retirement of beloved Professor Donna DiBella at the end of the last academic year, the future of the Conservatory’s sight-singing course sequence was uncertain. It was far into the year before there was confirmation of a new, incoming professor who would take over the course—one some students recognized with excitement, as Professor Bianca Pratte had graduated from Lawrence in 2020 with degrees in flute performance and psychology. 

As an incoming first-year, Pratte remembers being so shy that she was afraid to sit on the Con couches and take up too much space. “As the years progressed, though,” she continues, “I feel like I really came into myself and was able to take on some leadership roles.”  

She went from being an anxious and reserved first-year to the co-chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council by her final year, the President of Concert Choir and a music theory tutor.  

“Those are all things that, as a first-year, I never, ever thought I would do,” she remarked.  

Pratte found such a strong sense of community at Lawrence that helped her grow her confidence to the extent that she felt there was nowhere else that could match it when it came to studying flute. Instead, she pursued her master’s in music theory, a passion she had cultivated especially under the mentorship of Professor Ian Bates.  

“He was the one who encouraged me to go to the Society of Music Theory Conference in 2019,” Pratte remembers. “That was an incredible experience because the plenary speaker talked about sexism and racism within music theory, and I had no idea those conversations were happening on a wider scale within the field.”  

She began to feel like there was a place for her in music theory after that conference, where she realized that there were many young people, people of color and nonbinary people involved with music theory when it has often been known as a field reserved for older white men. 

Pratte had finished her master’s degree at Northwestern University and been nannying and directing a church choir, feeling burned out by academia and wondering what to do next when she heard from Bates that there was an opening at the Conservatory to teach sight singing and decided to apply.  

“I felt so lucky,” she remembers. “The job just dropped out of the sky into my lap, and it just happened to be the best job ever!” 

Professor Pratte. Photo provided by Pratte.

Even after she got the job, Pratte says that Bates’ and other faculty’s unwavering confidence in her character and abilities was what carried her through her first tumultuous weeks of being an instructor. In fact, DiBella also meets with Pratte frequently to guide her through the curriculum that she spent nearly 30 years developing at the Conservatory. 

 “That’s longer than I’ve been alive,” Pratte points out. “I feel so lucky to have the support of Donna and everything that she’s worked for in her whole career to help me along.” 

The transition from student to professor has been easier than expected, and Pratte feels welcomed by her former professors as an equal, but it still catches her off-guard sometimes to now be on equal footing with the same faculty she had so recently idolized.  

“To go from looking up to them to being colleagues with them is just so surreal,” she says. 

Returning to Lawrence was also good for her mentally, after her master’s program had left her somewhat defeated and lost.   

“I was just so excited, over the moon, to come back to the place where I felt like I had found myself,” Pratte explains. “I feel like I had lost that [confident] version of myself, so it was good coming back to a community that I felt really supported in.” 

 When it comes to students she knows from her own five years of study—like some current fifth-years from the flute studio whom she plays alongside once again in Flute Ensemble on Tuesday evenings—she admits to some initial awkwardness at preferring to be known as “Bianca” to some students and “Professor Pratte” to others, but she has since settled into a comfortable place where she says she feels like all the students respect her while still being companiable.  

“I love it when students talk to me outside of class,” Pratte adds. “I am always so excited to hear what is going on in their lives and flattered when they share things they like about my class.” 

Pratte remembers the current super-seniors as reserved first-years, trying to figure out their places in college, so coming back four years later she says, “it feels like they have found their way at Lawrence, and that makes me feel so proud of them.” Pratte has seen that dramatic growth in herself and her peers, and she wishes to pay it forward to her students in the coming years. 

“I loved sight singing then,” Pratte says, referring to her time as a performance major, “and I still love it now, and I just hope that I can infect my students with the same enthusiasm and joy.”  

Having been a rather shy student herself, Pratte knows that sight singing can be quite a struggle for some, and she sympathizes. She remembers that every time she would feel overwhelmed, she used to remind herself that “this is what I dreamed of my whole life—to go to school for music, to do music all day and be surrounded by musicians,” and she hopes that her students can feel that privilege and honor when they are in her class. 

Going back over the same curriculum that she learned not too long ago has really highlighted for Pratte how much her abilities have grown in the intervening years, but she also finds herself routinely impressed by how well her students handle the tricky material.  

“I feel like they’ve improved so much since the beginning of the year,” she reflects. “It’s been really, really gratifying to see them become more comfortable with singing individually and point out to them how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown. I want them to be able to recognize that, too.” 

In many ways, Pratte can see herself and her former classmates in the groups of students she teaches, and that means that, in many ways, she can see their futures and their potential in the same way she has realized hers.