Every week at UCI, there’s much more than just music-making happening behind the closed-doors of PSYE’s rehearsal rooms. Beyond the sounds of percussive timpani, powerful trombones, virtuosic flutes, and everyone in between, there’s often discussion about personal growth, encouraged by PSYE directors like Dr. Gregory Whitmore.
We sat down with Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble‘s director to hear about his role as an educator, his philosophy on learning, and what message he hopes to pass on to his students.
First of all, what made you want to become a music educator rather than a instrumental performer?
Honestly, when I went to undergrad at the University of Michigan, I was actually dueling between being a high-school band teacher and an environmental lawyer! I think the reason why I didn’t end up a lawyer is that I began to realize the impact teachers had in my life once I got to university. I think it’s important that young people have the opportunity to interact with these teachers who are committed to helping them—be-it for a semester or the rest of their lives. All of us have those people that helped guide us!
Considering you almost went into law, you must have a lot of other academic interests! What’s your outlook on interdisciplinary education?
I did an undergraduate in music education, masters in conducting, and a doctorate, but it was a research doctorate! I enjoy getting away from music and having those intellectual discussions with students. The parts of the academy—science, math, and literature—those are as important to me as music.
So much of what happened in music happened at the same time as architecture, history, technology—all these things move at the same time, so it has to be interdisciplinary! I’m not totally down that road of being solely in music and music only, and I encourage any kid to think about that: “You can be a musician and a great musician at that, but be a great scholar in the other ways of learning and other academic fields.”
Any parting advice for your high school and college-aged students?
To college students, be as well-rounded in your studies as you can. There’s no greater place than the university. There’s all these dynamic things happening in that small campus radius. Think and set yourself up for the next step: who are your teachers right now that you want as your future colleagues? Get to know them and meet them! Put down the phones and get into the business of learning by having conversations with people. I always tell my students that you’re investing in yourself by coming to college.
For high school kids, I want students go to the greatest college FOR THEM, and it’s hard because we live in a world of branding. To go to a big school with a big name may be great but that might not be the best for you. Don’t be afraid to go to a place that feels best for you and doesn’t have the “nice sounding name.” Once you get on your campus, that won’t matter. Also, prepare to make the college experience happen. If you’re trying to do everything for your resume, we don’t want to see that. We need people who are going to aspire, but we also need people are who are going to aspire in certain areas. We’re not saying you have to figure it all out, but we want to see you be the most authentic YOU that you can be.
This article was written by Alison Huh, one of Pacific Symphony’s Marketing & PR interns. Alison will be a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley, where she studies English. She was formerly a member of Pacific Symphony’s Youth Orchestra, playing flute.