This weekend I returned to my graduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, for the first time since completing my doctoral degree in 2005. The occasion was the 20th annual North Carolina Trombone Festival, for which I was the featured guest artist. I gave a recital on Friday evening, and then today performed one piece on a group faculty recital, conducted one of the trombone choirs, and gave lectures in the morning and afternoon. It was a busy but enjoyable and successful time, and after working extra hard for the past few weeks to prepare for this event in addition to my regular teaching and performing duties I am looking forward to, God willing, a calmer schedule for the remaining weeks of the spring semester.
Being here for the past few days has also reminded me of why I chose to come to UNCG, why it was such a blessing for me to be here, and the ways in which I seek to emulate my trombone teacher here, Dr. Randy Kohlenberg. Interestingly enough, UNCG was not on my short list when I first began considering graduate programs; I had never even heard of the school or its trombone teacher prior to my senior year in college. After I found that one of my top choices did not have a graduate assistantship available my teacher at Delta State University, Dr. Ed Bahr, suggested that I consider UNCG, where a doctoral school classmate of his was teaching. I sent a prescreening tape and later performed a live audition, and while I was here for that visit I observed Dr. Kohlenberg’s outstanding teaching. After that day I was hooked, and was very thankful when UNCG offered me a teaching assistantship and tuition waiver. I completed my master’s degree in only three semesters and they offered to continue funding my schooling for a doctoral degree; I never considered going elsewhere.
What had me so hooked on UNCG and Dr. Kohlenberg’s teaching? This: He was both tremendously demanding and unfailingly kind and encouraging. When I observed his teaching during that first visit I saw Dr. Kohlenberg work with students of varying ability levels, always pushing them to achieve more, admonishing them when lack of preparation was to blame for poor results, yet doing this without resorting to personal insults, mockery (except in an obviously kindly, joking way), or other negative behaviors. As his student then and now today years later in observing him with his current students I have seen and experienced this man demanding absolute perfection—on several occasions he spent an entire lesson with me on just a few bars of music—but at the same time treating every student with gentleness, kindness, and respect. The result is excellent playing on the part of his students both current and former, and even this weekend I know that I played better because of his encouraging words and actions toward me.
The music business is a tough one. The demands for quality are high, the employment opportunities far fewer than the number of qualified applicants, and the temptations great for musicians and music teachers to be either negative and self-serving in the midst of their demands or otherwise overly permissive and resigned to mediocrity. I’m therefore thankful to have had a teacher who so ably demonstrated how to be kind and encouraging while simultaneously demanding ever higher levels of skill and achievement. I hope and pray that I am such a teacher to my students, and am going home even more determined and inspired to strive to that end.