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Letter to Myself: Jeffrey Grogan

Yamaha Master Educator Jeffrey Grogan is professor of music and director of orchestral activities at Oklahoma City University. He is also artistic director and conductor of the Oklahoma Youth Orchestras.

Below, he pens a letter to his younger self, sharing advice, anecdotes and inspiration for a fulfilling career in music education.


Dear Younger Jeffrey:

I know how nervous and excited you are as you embark on your first day as a music educator. Let me assure you, the journey will be fun and rewarding, full of ups and downs. The highs will keep you motivated and inspired. You will work with tens of thousands of talented students, and you will feel the biggest rush when you perform together in concert halls all over the world.

The lows will be few and far between. Don’t be discouraged by them — instead, have fun figuring out how to overcome and solve these obstacles.

Jeffrey Grogan ConductingBe ready for anything, and I mean anything — even a terrible pandemic that shuts down schools across the country! The silver lining is that you will invent new ways for your students to learn and grow without actually being together in person. You’ll digitally host famous performers and artists who will engage your students in conversations. You will work together with your friends and colleagues to create a new teaching paradigm using smaller groups and exploring some of the greatest music ever written.

During the last 25 years as a music educator, I have learned so much about myself. Here are some invaluable tips — things I wish I had known on Day 1.

Find a few good mentors, people you respect and can rely on to tell you the truth. Ask them a lot of questions because figuring out what you don’t know is the key. Trust me, you don’t have all the answers … and seeking out new ideas is a never-ending quest!

I know you like to “fix” things during rehearsals, but inspired students possess superhuman skills. Always keep them inspired, and you’ll find that you have less to fix!

You will be tempted to let the importance of the final product outweigh the process. Don’t let that happen! Always keep the reasons you became a musician and educator at the center of everything you do. Pass along this love of music to your students.

Record your rehearsals. Though potentially painful to experience, you will learn so much about yourself and your students. Recording will be easy in the future — everyone will have portable phones that have video cameras! With the phone, you can send messages and check your emails, like having a computer that fits in the palm of your hand. By the way, you’re going to love these things called emoji.

But most importantly, your students and the people you meet and work with over the years will bring you indescribable joy. They will keep you going through the tough times and will enrich your life beyond measure.

Love everyone!

Jeffrey in 2020

Photo by Fred Stucker


SupportED 2020v5n3 cover with Mimi StillmanThis article originally appeared in the 2020N3 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

Advice from Yamaha Master Educator Kevin Ford

Begin with a Question

What has led to the greatest growth in my students and in my teaching was developing the mindset of a conceptual teacher.

As a young educator, I provided entirely too much information to my student performers.

Priding myself on showing up prepared, I made sure to research and detail every nuance, and as a result, rehearsals were driven solely by my preparation.

All my energy was directed toward what information I could provide, leading me to make every musical decision.

What was missing was a collaborative effort between my students and me. This challenge became especially evident as we began new pieces of literature. I found myself repeating information, and the inconsistencies of previous works would continue to be prevalent. Unfortunately, falling into the trap of this way of teaching is commonplace as the pace of the rehearsal moves rapidly, appearing as if you are getting things done efficiently and effectively.

More Questions than Answers

However, when I would watch master teachers rehearse various ensembles, I noticed a common characteristic. Initially, more questions were asked than answers provided. For example, rather than specifically stating the areas of concern between rehearsals marking B to C, they would insightfully prompt reactions that resulted in the performers reaching the correction on their own.

At first glance, this method seemed to extend the rehearsal. However, as the ensemble continued, it was evident that going through this process in a collaborative manner provided the opportunity for students not only to retain information but also to apply the learned concepts to any piece of literature.

Seeking Student Input

In my own rehearsals, I have found this technique to be especially beneficial in developing the students’ ability to play with artistry and expression. Now, rather than specifying exactly how I think a phrase should be shaped, I always begin with a question, objectively seeking their input regarding the architecture of a phrase and encouraging students to think like artists and to make creative choices.

Through this approach, the performers seem to possess a greater investment regarding the macro and micro development of a piece of music, ultimately leading to more memorable and fulfilling performances.

This article originally appeared in the 2017 V3 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.