This week I turned 30 and decided it was time to reflect a bit on the past ten years of my musical life. I've grown immensely as a musician, educator, and composer. Here are some of my thoughts:
Hard Work Does Pay Off
Ten years ago, I was a sophomore in college at the forefront of spending many hours in a practice room...and in the music library (listening)...and working band camps...and studying like crazy...basically soaking up everything like a sponge. When I first stepped into the classroom, my hard work had paid off. I was able to quickly get my feet on the ground and have a successful band program. That being said, I did have to work insanely hard my first few years of becoming a teacher and professional. Now I've got a great band with a lot of students that achieve regularly. We get consistent superiors at festivals and I feel like all the years of working my butt off has definitely been worth it. Hard work and diligence really do pay off!
Listening is Paramount
As a band director, musician, composer, clinician, etc, my ear guides me. I was encouraged several years ago to listen to a lot of everything. One of my mentors, Jay Bocook, made sure that I was listening to a wide variety of music. The lesson was in context of me improving my arranging skills, but listening practically non-discriminately has totally shaped me as a musician. When I compose, my ear guides me (I can hear reverberations of Tchaikovsky and Bach, Stan Kenton and the Beatles). When I arrange, I have a lot of techniques and tricks to engage the listener. As an educator, I really know what a good band sounds like and shape my kids to sound the same. It's also important to listen to a variety of skill levels as well. Because of frequenting festivals (not just Midwest), I can hear intonation and timing issues, and can usually come up with a way to fix them!
And sometimes I just need to sit down and turn the lights off, put on some Beethoven, and just listen in sheer awe of the magnificence and beauty.
Write Down Your Ideas
Always write down your ideas. Or take a voice memo. Or email yourself. Or put it in your calendar for a later date. With the recent technology boom of iPhones and the Cloud and really online everything, there's no excuse. There's also nothing as frustrating as forgetting that awesome idea. For example, I had a reminder to write "10 Things I Learned in My Twenties," which resulted in this blog post. So write it down. Or send it up into the cloud. Whatever works.
Understand One's (My) Place
My few years out of college, I remember a stark contrast between the immersion of music school and the rest of the world. I've redirected a lot of who I am as a musician and educator over the past ten years, significantly increasing my advocacy efforts. I see so many of my friends and fellow musicians struggling because it seems that the average person doesn't prescribe a lot of value to classical oriented music. (Here's a whole post I wrote about this) I've certainly found my place as a musician and a lot of it is bringing the masses back to the concert hall. I do my best to create engaging concerts for my students and parents that will hopefully evoke a curiosity that will lead them to buy a ticket to the symphony, or a musical theatre, or even just a little chamber concert.
Being passionate will count for a lot. Friends will want to take part, students will buy in, and colleagues will respect you. For others to know and see your passion(s) is huge. My students know that I love music. They see it every time I pick up my trombone or really get into conducting a piece. They then have an understanding of what makes me tick and it truly helps me to bring out their greatness and to help them find their passions.
Professional Development is a Must
In my college years into my first few years of teaching, I read a lot of books. Specifically I read a lot of books that helped me grow as a leader and a teacher. A lot of the books written for business professionals apply well to teaching (band directing is very similar to running a business). A few of my favorites: Ron Clark's books were great for inspiration; How to Win Friends and Influence People taught me to effectively communicate with people; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is great info and helps to get organized and effective; and every GIA Publications book I could get my hands on.
Being a working professional doesn't mean you need to re-invent the wheel. I know so many "bullish" band directors who are avid about trying (and often failing) their way no matter what. My advice would be to look at the wealth of knowledge out there and learn from other people's mistakes. There's definitely something to making your own mistakes to learn and grow, but somebody has already walk the same path, so you might as well learn from them.
All that being said, I've learned to soak up everything. The best people in any field NEVER stop learning.
Enjoy What You Do
Some of the best advice I ever received was to stop being so serious. I came into this profession like a barreling train, totally bent on success. When I had that attitude, my frustrating days were quite rough. When I started to take a step back and really enjoy what I do, everything (and I do mean everything) got a lot better. I became more effective as an educator and my students were better as well. My style is not to be crazy serious all the time, but to be serious when necessary.
My twenties were good and I learned a lot about what it means to be a musician, composer, and educator. See you in 10 years for "Things I Learned in My Thirties."
The musings of a composer that also band directs!! ... or maybe it's the other way around..