Earlier this semester I was contacted by David Mercedes, a doctoral tuba student at the University of Iowa, with several interview questions for his Advanced Brass Pedagogy course with Professor Jeffrey Agrell. David had some very insightful questions, and I have shared these (and my candid responses) below, with David’s permission. The questions are similar, though not exactly the same, as those posted by John Ericson at Horn Matters. I assume both projects are for the same pedagogy class – BRAVO to David Mercedes, Professor Agrell, and the rest of the Advanced Brass Pedagogy class on a fantastic project!
During your years of collegiate teaching, what do you think you have brought to your studios that has been most valuable to them?
I think I’ve brought a variety of professional experiences as well as enthusiasm and passion for what I do.
What is the best way you motivate your students?
Leading by example! I never ask students to do anything I don’t already do or have done in the past. I try to be as excited as I can about whatever it is that they/we/I are doing, with the hope that my excitement is contagious. Attitudes are contagious, and having a positive attitude is one of the most important attributes you can bring to your teaching.
How do you work with students who don’t seem to be motivated, and are complacent with not progressing as a musician?
I try to find something that they are interested in, whatever that may be, and use that as a conversation starter. Students almost always have something they are passionate about, and I try to help them transfer some of that passion to their musical studies. I ask them to provide both long and short-term goals, and we use that as a basis for materials and strategies covered in lessons.
What are some of your recruiting strategies?
Recruiting has been and continues to be a major component of my current position. Here is a short list:
- Regular visits to local schools
- Recruiting tours with other brass faculty
- Develop a robust, professional online identity through website, social media, YouTube videos, etc.
- Email, hand-written letters to prospective students
- Annual on-campus recruiting events (Brass Day, Horn Day, etc.)
- Building relationships with local music educators
How strict is your personal practice plan? What makes you stick to it, and how often do you change it?
I’m fairly regimented in this area, although age and experience have taught me to be more flexible. I strive for 2 hours of focused practice throughout a work day, unless rehearsals, performances, or other obligations prevent it. I enjoy practicing and learning new repertoire, and that’s what keeps me motivated. I am almost always planning a future program in my mind and thinking over repertoire choices.
How did you go about getting invited to perform at festivals, conferences and other institutions?
Persistence – keep applying for as many of them as you can and eventually your proposals will be accepted. Ask for feedback on your proposals from others who have been successful in applying for those festivals/conferences. Cultivate relationships with people in and out of your field – you never know when those relationships may bear fruit. Be a GOOD PERSON.
What advice would you have for someone who is looking to follow a career path like yours?
Stay interested in what you do, and stay positive. Figure out what it is that you do well, and continue to improve on those things. You can’t do everything, and no one expects you to. Seek out others who are doing the same kinds of things you are and ask them questions about their success, failure, etc. Be honest with yourself and your capabilities – this is very important in avoiding burnout. Try to avoid over-committing yourself. Be especially careful in how you represent yourself on social media. This is incredibly important today.
What is a typical day like for you?
It really varies depending on my teaching and performing schedule. I almost always start the day with some meditation and breathing exercises, followed by a warm-up/maintenance routine. I feel like if I can get that part completed early in the day then I am well-prepared for whatever challenges come my way.
What is the on – campus interview like?
Varies depending on the position and duties, but here are some general components.
- One or more meetings/meals with the search committee
- Exit meeting with search committee
- Q&A with faculty/students
- Meetings with various administrators
- Master class and teaching demonstration
- Rehearsal with collaborative pianist and a recital performance, hopefully not on the same day.
- Reading session with faculty ensembles (if applicable)
These can be stressful, and you should make sure you take time throughout the day or days that you are there to relax and have a little time to yourself. Remember that from the time you are picked up at the airport until the time you leave that you are being interviewed. The members of the search committee will probably be very relaxed and social with you and each other, which is a good thing, but don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security about your words and actions. Always represent yourself as positively as possible!
What do you think has been your biggest challenge as a musician?
Balancing the physical demands of playing with achieving musical goals. I tend to be an analytical player, which is helpful as a teacher and performer, but can sometimes get in the way.
Interesting and informative, James.