Ericson Interview, part IV: The “real world” of college teaching

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Conclusion, interview by Komsun Dilokkunanant.

11. There are many complains from full-time teacher in Thailand regarding a high amount of paperwork that need to be submitted to University for Quality Assurance system. Is there such a thing here? If so, does it requires a lot of paperwork and time?

Paperwork takes a good chunk of my time here. It depends on the school of course but I believe, overall, the level of paperwork is higher than in the past, and it is more of a part of the job than outsiders realize. I know it can be worse than we have, one former student was teaching at a university that had a complicated grading rubric that has to be filled out for every lesson across their entire music program. We have not gone that far at ASU, but in this era of documenting everything who knows, it may not be too far away.

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12. Do you have any difficulties finding funding for your projects? If so, what were your solutions?

Yes, funding is difficult to locate. My CDs are all actually self-funded. This will probably surprise many readers. Some schools have systems that can be used to get grants for CDs. I my case we opted to go ahead and make the recordings as investments in my career. The only funding I have received that related to a specific project was partial funding of a single music commission, the title work of Table for Three.

13. Were there any problems dealing with administrative staff or management board?

No. Maybe I have been lucky but I feel like everywhere I have worked full time the administration did a pretty good job. I do my job and they do theirs.

I think as horn professors we are pretty lucky too. Typically, we are the only one at the school. When you get to multi teacher studios such as seen in say piano or violin, I think that is where you get drama.

14. How do you manage your time between teaching, playing, paperwork, and maintaining a good and healthy personal life? Any special keys?

First let me say that my wife is wonderful. I owe so much to her in terms of encouragement and a stable family life. Her encouragement led me to complete my Doctorate, and her support has left me with less to worry about.

Beyond that, French horn teaching and playing is something I do, I do it to the best of my ability, but it is not my life. I have other hobbies and interests, my faith is very important to me (it provides hope for the future and is the basis for any optimism I feel), and my family as well is very important to me.

My son being handicapped also takes quite a bit of my time. At times it has been difficult for us and he is very attached to me, even at age 23. But instead of it being a negative it has actually enforced some routines in my life, limiting things in a way that has ultimately helped me produce some unique products. I try to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.

Expanding that last thought, everyone has their own specific circumstances. Things will have two sides. I could focus on the opportunities I don’t have. Instead, I choose to focus on the opportunities I have. So while there may be things you can’t do, there are always things you can do. As they say, doors close but windows open.

To a more specific tip others reading this might apply to their lives, as I write these answers it is actually the busiest part of the year, the E-mail is really flying, much to do. I am not perfect, but as much as anything I try to stay organized. Focus on the tasks that have to be done; try be organized and not fall too far behind.

15. How would you describe your experience as a Professor at Arizona State University for the last 20 years? What were your proud moments? Were there any regrets?

Well, I have not been here quite 20 years as I started teaching here in the fall of 2001. Overall the experience has been great. I have learned much over the years as a teacher, I have had some wonderful colleagues, and I love hearing the progress made by students during their studies. No big regrets, certainly.

16. What is (or are) the most important thing(s) to be a successful teacher/student?

For a successful horn teacher, a key thing I think is to be interested in solving problems. For the student, it is the opposite, to be interested in working out problems.

Other teachers will have very different answers, of course. One I know, who teaches at another school, I am sure their teaching is all about inspiration; yet others, it seems to me that their teaching is more along the lines of coaching. These tactics can work, with the right students, but if an individual student has basic technical problems playing into the low range (for example) all the inspiration and coaching in the world won’t give them a powerful low C. So, again, I think an interest in practical problem solving, combined with curiosity about the underlying techniques of horn playing, is really beneficial.

Turning back to students, I think there is a trap to be careful of. It may be cool to study with someone famous at the famous school, but if all they do is coach musical interpretations it won’t help you reach your goals, unless you have no technical problems, of course. There has to be a balance between technical work and musical work.

One other point I would add is actually I was not that strong a player out of high school. I did make all-state as a senior (in Kansas), but had a serious embouchure problem, and at the start of college was a music business major planning to go into instrument repair! I doubt that I would have been accepted as a performance major anywhere. I very interested in performance though and worked hard on my problems, for example changing my embouchure not once but twice over the course of my college studies. I made a lot of progress over time. That experience I think has helped me a great deal as a teacher. For those players who were “naturals” who had no problems it can be a challenge to help students solve problems.

17. How would you sum up your experience so far in one sentence?

Winning Third Horn in Nashville was a key factor toward all that I have subsequently done in my career; I feel very blessed to have had the opportunities I have had and look forward to the final portion of my college teaching career.

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