Ericson Interview, part I: From orchestral player to professor

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Periodically questions come in related to school projects. In this case, the questions were in an interview format for an advanced brass pedagogy and literature course at the University of Iowa, from horn graduate student Komsun Dilokkunanant. A variety of topics are addressed and will be answered here for Horn Matters readers, in four parts.

Questions:

1. What made you decide to change your career from performing in an orchestra to full-time teaching?

The simplest answer is, looking way back, it was always my dream. When I was an undergrad, I remember thinking to myself what I wanted to do was play first horn in a major orchestra for a time and then turn to teaching college full time. I actually came kind of close to what I was thinking, as I was tenured as Third Horn in The Nashville Symphony, during that timeframe finished my Doctorate, and was teaching college part time. With that experience I was able to make the move. I had with my performing, teaching, degrees, and publications developed a very strong resume.

Looking a little deeper, there is another answer. Playing in Nashville there were times (especially on pops concerts) where I realized that I was basically just someone holding a shiny horn on stage in the background. Not that it was a problem, but I was interested in more than performing, specifically horn history and pedagogy and in working more directly with individual people.

Plus, on a basic family level, while we were happy in Nashville (I have very fond memories of my time playing there, and reference things I learned and experienced there as an orchestral player literally every teaching day), I wanted to work fewer evenings as my son is handicapped. And as already mentioned, I had tenure in Nashville, so there was some risk in leaving, but we felt it was the right move.

2. What did you prepare for your interview/audition process for teaching in universities?

The first part of my answer is more about how to prepare rather than what to prepare. Looking back at it, step one for me was simply looking at the job listings when I was a grad student and seeing what the required qualifications were. Seems like a rather simple thing, but it is actually pretty critical. If you don’t have what they are looking for, your application won’t be of interest to a search committee.

They don’t often come up, but right after my MM I had the chance to interview for a one year college opening. I did not win the job, but it did inspire me to go back to school and work toward a Doctorate to enhance my experience.

Jumping forward to my next interviews, when I was in Nashville, I actually found it really helpful to read a book on job interviews and did a mock interview that was also extremely helpful at one critical point. I was not too concerned really about the teaching and playing part of it, by then I had been at Assistant Instructor as a Doctoral student (at IU), had taught part time at Western Kentucky University, and had also taught for a year in Taiwan. My concern was more at that point the new situation of the interview itself. By preparing in this way I went in with ideas of questions that might be asked and how I might answer them. I also made a point of really going over the website of the school I was interviewing at, to know something about the people I would meet and the school itself.

A final point to make for those reading this that are looking to apply for a tenure-track position, part of what your resume needs to show is that you should be tenurable. There is no one formula to this, but ideally you will have produced some performance products (such as a CD), possibly articles or conference presentations, and show evidence of performing and teaching on a high level. Your resume should show these things; be sure to show it to a mentor for feedback before sending it out. Oh, and your cover letter should read like something written by a normal person.

3. Were there anything you wish you would know (about being full-time lecturer) before taking this job?

The first full time teaching position for me in the United States was at The Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam, hired at the rank of Assistant Professor. I was there for three years, which were great years overall but if there was one thing to mention is it was a really busy job. Especially the first semester, I just remember it being a blur, so many new students (20!) and new things to teach, lots of performing, plus with the unknowns of recruiting in a new part of the country, etc.

I mention this as I think some professional players get an idea that teaching college should be a relatively easy gig, plenty of time to play golf or whatever. I get that sense talking to some European players as well. That is absolutely not the case. In fact, I would say that winning a position and achieving tenure in a full-time university position such as I now hold at Arizona State is certainly more difficult than winning a job in an orchestra with a comparable pay scale.

Back to your question though, starting in at ASU it was of course also very busy and a challenge at first, working with students who had come there to study with a teacher very different than me, with an additional challenge being my office was literally in between two living legends of brass teaching. It kept me on my toes.

It is not a reason to not take the job but probably worth mentioning that the tenure process is much more rigorous at a larger university than a smaller one, at least in my personal experiences. You have to be in a position at a university like this to really appreciate how much effort is needed of you in working toward tenure and promotion, beyond the effort needed to simply teach your students and recruit. But, still, it is worth reminding yourself that if the search committee recommends your hire they must feel that you have what it takes to do the job.

Continue to part II of Ericson interview

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