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Letter to Myself: Richard Floyd

Yamaha Master Educator Richard Floyd is State Director of Music Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. A recognized authority on conducting and music advocacy, Floyd pens a letter to his younger self, sharing advice, anecdotes and inspiration for a fulfilling career in music education.


Dear Younger Richard:

It’s 1962, and you are about to embark on an amazing lifelong journey. Let me remind you that you are not here today because you finally learned to play the chromatic scale at MM=144, discovered a new alternate fingering on your clarinet or mastered a challenging passage. You chose music because of an emotional connection. Music touched your heart and soul in a series of defining moments, and you realized that you couldn’t live without it and became consumed with the dream of sharing it with others.

Always remember that it is the art of making music that gives it true value. In truth, recreating notes on a printed page is no more or less rewarding than solving an algebra equation. No music has been created. But when those notes and rhythms are infused with your spirit and passion for creating and sharing beauty, the outcome is priceless.

Richard Floyd conducting

Never lose sight of this reality. Trust me, it will be easy to become obsessed with personal achievements, extrinsic goals, a boundless litany of suggested strategies, endless competitions and alluring peripheral activities that disguise themselves as being central to the true purpose of music education. Do not be seduced by these illusions. If you remain ever mindful of those magical moments that ignited your fire for making and teaching music, and you strive to create those kinds of experiences with your students, you will enrich countless lives.

Continually remain a student and be good to yourself. Why? To paraphrase famed British conductor Simon Rattle, “The more you put into yourself, the more you will be able to give back to your students and to the music.”

To that end, strive daily to expand your horizons. Give yourself permission to “color outside the lines.” If you insist on staying inside the lines — or within the safety of your comfort zone — those lines will become your boundaries.

On your journey, take with you a fortress of great music that offers you inspiration, comfort and revival. There will be countless times when you will need to be reminded of music’s intrinsic place in your life and in the lives of others. Your musical fortress must reflect the greatest music that humanity has to offer. Be it Mozart or Mahler or contemporary composers on the cutting edge of compositional thought, make it the best of what is out there. And it must be a compendium of great music that constantly grows and evolves.

One of my favorite quotes is one by Ursula K. LeGuin: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Let that core reality be your guide.

And above all, never forget that life’s journey is a do-it-yourself project. It’s you — and only you — who can go for it!


Richard in 2019


This article originally appeared in the 2019 V4 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.