Dr. Travis J. Cross is a Yamaha Master Educator and the Chair of Music, Professor of Conducting, Director of Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Below, he writes a letter advising his younger self to always do right and to seek opportunities to grow and stretch as a musician and educator.
Welcome to your first year as a teacher. You are unusually lucky to start your career at an exemplary high school with a thriving band program, strong parental support, abundant resources and an amazing senior colleague. You’ll learn a lot living in Minneapolis, a great American city with two full-time professional orchestras, two classical radio stations and a vibrant theater scene. You’ll only be a short drive from your wonderful former teachers at St. Olaf College and even closer to the University of Minnesota and its many musical offerings.
Even with those advantages, the next few years will be incredibly challenging for you, and that’s okay. Four years of college and three months of student teaching aren’t enough to prepare anyone to succeed in this profession. I urge you to seek out opportunities to stretch and grow as a musician, teacher and person.
See and hear as much great art and as many world-class performers as you can afford. Attend other high school and college band (and choir and orchestra) concerts. Join a community band.
Befriend other inspired music educators. Observe their rehearsals and invite them to yours. Share meals, drinks, rides to concerts, video reviews, ideas, frustrations, techniques and repertoire. Play recordings of your ensemble for the best musicians you know and take their advice about how to solve problems they hear. Bring your college band director to your school, even when you’re afraid you’re not doing everything as well as you could. Why wait until you can already do everything to ask for help?
While you push yourself and your students to do better, remember to exercise patience and think strategically. Whether in your program or within yourself, some things change quickly, some change slowly, and some never change — or the effort required is disproportional to the result.
The one thing I wish I knew when I started teaching is that no rational argument, however well-reasoned or explained, will prevail on a person acting irrationally. Though sometimes it’s important to be right — and it’s always important to do right — spending hours writing the perfect email to explain why someone’s child wasn’t placed in the top band, assigned the solo, selected as drum major or why the music festival is more necessary than the winter formal usually fails to make a difference or costs more than it’s worth. Instead, invest your time and energy in what you can actually improve — for example, yourself.
If you lead with love for music and your students as well as work really hard, you’ll find a lifetime of joy and fulfillment. Now go practice the piano and learn some alternate clarinet fingerings!
This article originally appeared in the 2020N2 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.