Ericson Interview, part II: On teaching, auditions, and the future of classical music

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Part II, interview by Komsun Dilokkunanant. 

4. What is your philosophy on teaching? 

A few years back, when Douglas Yeo (trombone) joined the ASU brass faculty, he was working on a mission statement for his studio and it challenged me to think about one for horn as well. What I developed for the horn studio was the following:

“Our mission at the ASU horn studio is to strive for excellence in performance and to encourage and challenge each other in a supportive atmosphere.”

I think that does represent elements of my teaching philosophy well. My own teachers have certainly been role models for how I wanted to and wanted not to do things as a teacher. In the end, I really just try to work with each student as an individual and do what I can as a teacher to move their horn playing forward.

5. What would you like your students to achieve during and after their studies?

My goals are really simple in this regard. I try as much as possible to understand the goals of each student and work on things that will help them move forward in their horn playing, aiming for the highest level we can achieve. After their studies with me conclude I hope they can continue to go forward and contribute as horn players.

A clearer answer might be to look at the opposite side of this question. I really don’t want to see students come out having given up any love of music and horn. I think back on my own studies and there really were too many people who left school burned out that actually quit horn. Horn study should in the end be a positive thing, a reflection of focused personal effort that can be applied to any other task you later take on.

6. There are more graduated music students who wish to join a full-time professional orchestra one day. However, it is becoming more difficult to get the job. How would you guide them to achieve their goal? Would you advise them to consider other possibilities relating to other music related professions?

This is a topic I think about a lot. I wish I had great answers, but a question a student asked me recently and the answer I gave relates to this topic. In conversation, I mentioned to the student how my Nashville audition was the 25th full time orchestral job opening that I had auditioned for. The question asked of me was how did I keep going that long?

At the time, as I recall it, my thinking was mainly that I wanted a job (recently married and nearly done Doctoral course work). But also, I did actually advance in more than half of those 24 previous auditions and had made finals in auditions in Buffalo, Denver, Indianapolis, Louisville (twice), Memphis (twice), and Toledo, so I did not feel too discouraged. I knew I was getting close.

Reflecting on this now I realize that there are a couple personality types that particularly can stick with taking many orchestral auditions. One type is like me: I am basically a pretty optimistic person. The other type is a bit different: the person who is very confident.

In either case, though, a key thing is to learn how to execute your playing well in an audition situation. If you never advance at all in several auditions yes, you need to reconsider things. But really it will take you a while to develop the “X-factor” that will make your playing stand out for the right reasons and to play at your best in the audition. What you want, in the end, is to not sound like a “good student” but to instead sound like you are a professional who knows how to do this job you are auditioning for.

It also helped me that I got through my undergrad education completely debt free, and I was helped very substantially by scholarships, a Graduate Assistant position, and by my parents as a MM and Doctoral student. If I had been deep in debt at that point I don’t know how I would have been able to take that many auditions. It is something to think about for anyone considering schools for study, you can get a great education at a school like Arizona State and not come out deep in debt.

To the second part of your question, if orchestral playing is your biggest goal, any type of high level playing you can do will help you toward developing the X-factor, and that would be the most critical thing to add in to whatever else you are doing. Of course, you will also need to make a living somehow, and if it can be music related this will help your resume. There are entrepreneurial things you can do in music that will lead to income, certainly it will help to think out of the box and be creative. Just don’t think so far out of the box that you spread yourself really thin and don’t develop your orchestral X-factor.

7. Looking toward the future, what do you think will happen to the music world – especially classical music? How should so called ‘classical’ musicians prepare?

As noted already, I am basically an optimistic person. I know there are people that predict gloom and doom for classical music, but I really do think it will survive in a form similar to today for a good while. The analog experience of listening to great music in a great hall is really hard to beat, I think the only real challenges are getting that audience to the music and introducing the audiences to the music.

Continue to part III of Ericson interview