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Q&A: Personal reflections

A couple of weeks ago I put out a call for questions, in honor of today being the fifteenth anniversary of this blog. A few of the questions asked about my own career and approaches to various things. I’ll try to answer the best I can.

One reader asked about music education and work/life balance. This person completed a degree in music education but found there was pressure to make teaching a “lifestyle” rather than just a 9-to-5 kind of job.

To be clear, my degrees are in performance, not music education, though I make my living as an educator at the university level. But most of my students are music education majors, and on the track to become public school band directors. Some of my former students have really embraced that career, have excelled in it, and have wrestled with the work/life balance aspects to various results. Others have burned out quickly and moved on to other career options. I do think sometimes there’s a sort of cult around music as a career—the rueful but revealing jokes about college music majors “living” in the practice rooms, or about high school band directors kissing their families goodbye until after marching band season. It’s a complex and very individual calculus whether passion, time investment, family and other “life” demands, finances, and identity balance in the right ways to make those careers worthwhile. It’s also a moving target: after 14 years and a couple of promotions in my university position, the demands on my time and energy have shifted, and my approach to the job has adapted to make it more sustainable for me and my specific needs.

A related question came from another reader: am I happy with the balance of teaching and performing in my life, and do I have plans to adjust that?

As a full-time university music professor, a certain quantity of teaching (and to some extent performance) is non-negotiable. And I live in a rural and relatively remote area, so pre-made freelance performance opportunities are somewhat limited. But there are some choices I have made to adjust my balance. I don’t teach summer classes, so I’ve got a few months each year to do some relaxing/recovery and some concentrated work on projects that are important to me, like preparing recitals, working on online content and tools, and writing. A few years ago I cut loose my private students outside of my university responsibilities, in order to focus on finishing a book and further developing some online projects. I’m fortunate that the book and online things have more than replaced the income from those additional students, and let me have a little more variety in my days. Plus, I get to refer lesson inquiries to my college students, who are usually anxious for the experience and the reed money.

A longtime woodwind player asked what I do to “keep things fresh.”

I can respond with some of the things I’ve done, but of course these are specific to my interests and circumstances. I continue to pursue interests in world/folk instruments, and the Zoom era has opened up some possibilities for connecting and studying with expert players around the world. I’m also having fun with combining woodwind instruments with electronics. My university job gives me a venue and audience to do new and/or familiar things on stage, in annual faculty recitals. This blog and my other web-based projects combine my interest in music and woodwinds with my interest in software and coding. I’ve released the one book, and am in the process of writing another. And of course I’m always on the lookout for new etudes, exercises, and repertoire for me and for my students.

Thanks for the thoughtful questions!


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