For students and faculty, music outside class

Dorothy Geller is a professor and folk singer who rejects pop culture.

Dorothy Geller| Alexis Wright-Whitley TTN
Dorothy Geller| Alexis Wright-Whitley TTN

Although she loves being a musician, Dorothy Geller does not want to be a rock star.

Geller, a professor in the Intellectual Heritage department, said her goal as a musician is to resist the ideas of traditional rock culture that perpetuate pop culture obsessions with those in the industry.

“The best expressions are of appreciation, when people engage me about what [my music] sounds like, what it’s doing, how they felt, what kind of place they went with it,” Geller said. “It’s really about being able to create an environment where you transport a small community that doesn’t fit in the standard categories.”

Geller first picked up a guitar when she was 13, growing up between New York and London. Geller said expression is her main focus and, as a result, many of her songs are “not very musical,” but are about rejecting traditional ideals of rock and pop culture.

When performing, Geller goes by the stage name Dora Bleu. Although she’s been in a band previously, when performing as a solo artist, she said the stage name helps her avoid self-promotion.

“The music is something else,” Geller said. “It isn’t really me. The music is something I am doing outside of my everyday self.”

Geller teaches two Mosaic I classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She said she enjoys teaching and performing in different ways.

“I’m never playing music and wishing I was grading papers,” Geller said. “Music doesn’t pay well, but the labor that I put into it is more selfish than with teaching.”

Geller said she encourages open discussions and differing perspectives in her classroom in an effort to help students evolve academically and personally through the semester. Geller said she finds more satisfaction in teaching than performing because of the connections that she shares with her students over the assigned texts.

“I get to have this long-term interaction with my students,” Geller said. “They are able to funnel their own experiences into these conversations that we’re having about historical events and social violence.”

As a musician, Geller has been touring the world since the early ‘90s, trying to use her style to combat the glorification of singers and bands.

“That’s the problem with being a performer,” Geller said. “The narcissism, the one-sided affection – it is destructive.”

Her tours are scattered through Western and Eastern Europe, the American East Coast and Canada. Geller said the places she likes to perform at are not necessarily familiar to travelers, like Helsinki, Finland, which she called one of her favorite places. She said she appreciated the city’s music school that teaches traditional folk music.

Geller has studied at the University of Chicago, University of Virginia and George Washington University. She studied in interdisciplinary programs that featured texts from various decades and themes, which she said relates to her Mosaic classes.

Geller admitted to being a tough grader on written work, but said she wants to encourage critical thinking as much as possible. Her class studies texts from many time periods and backgrounds, tying themes by geography, labor and power.

“How I feel about a student doesn’t have much to do with how they are doing in my class,” Geller said. “Learning is not directly related to the grade they receive, but in this period of education, unfortunately, [students] need the grade to motivate them.”

Geller said she would like to continue teaching along with her musical career, adding that she doesn’t feel one career is more important than the other. She said she usually devotes summers and school breaks to her music and focuses on teaching during the academic year.

“I kind of need both,” Geller said. “They’re both forms of expression and forms of communication. They work together.”

Paige Gross can be reached at 

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