When I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2003 and headed for the East Coast, I never imagined the kaleidoscope of experience ahead of me. Nor did I understand the effect on my perspective that my journey would have. Actually, as a kid growing up in a small town south of Des Moines, I never imagined the journey would take place at all.
My undergraduate experience was diverse musically, professionally and personally. I explored every avenue of music available both in and out of school. While studying theory and playing in every ensemble available, I learned the method of putting together a studio of private students. I played regional orchestra gigs, weddings, night club bands….let's face it, just about anything with a paycheck. As I finished my performance degree and left for graduate school at Yale University, I thought that I had the world and my career pretty well figured out. Boy, was I wrong.
We Ain’t in Kansas (or Iowa) Anymore
Connecticut was something out of a dream (or nightmare if you found yourself on I-95 between NYC and New Haven at the wrong time of day). My life pretty much consisted of practicing, brass quintet, orchestra, more practicing, and yes, discovering the local Irish Pub. For two years I ate, slept and breathed music—the glorious life of a master’s student. With yet another performance degree under my belt, I was ready to set the world on fire with my trumpet.
Still a Long Road
After two years basking in the musical sun, reality set in and it was time to grow up. I moved back to Des Moines to marry the girl of my dreams and start my "career" as a free-lance musician. I worked any job I could get my hands on: everything from community colleges to the Ringling Bros. Circus Band. I worked in Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar Rapids... you name it. At any one time I was teaching at least five different jobs from junior high schools to music stores. I even taught beginner piano lessons and worked at a shoe repair store for musicians bringing in their damaged cases. Two years is a long time for this sort of occupation. You eventually realize you're making less money than you're spending, you have no health insurance, no retirement plan and no reason to think things are going to get much better.
Texas Here I Come
In 2005 I made the decision to pursue a career in college teaching, which of course meant that I needed to get a doctoral degree in music. I was fortunate to be offered a teaching fellowship at the University of North Texas.
During three grueling years of doctoral studies, I began to develop two different longings: one, finish this degree before it kills me and get a job; two, get back to Iowa. As a 26-year-old looking to start a family, my priorities continued to change. Instead of looking at the next year or two of my life and wondering about the possibilities, I was looking at the next 40 and considering my responsibilities.
Get it While the Gettin’s Good
As I approached the end of my DMA, it was scary to think that there wouldn't be someone at the end of the graduation stage ready to hand me my first job. The college teaching market was becoming very tough. Jobs were fewer and the competition seemed to get more intimidating all the time. Perhaps there were those that shared my experience as a free-lancer and opted for a more stable career as I did. I knew very talented people with the same degree who continued to search for jobs years beyond graduation. Even today, I know 2009 graduates that have yet to win a first job. Again, I was very fortunate to be offered a position at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
While I was ecstatic to cross one of my finish lines and land that first job, fulfilling this goal only made me long for the other even more. I had a great job, a new house, a baby girl and another on the way, plenty of happiness. I was learning a tremendous amount about teaching and how to function in a college music department. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I was moving in the wrong direction, literally. We had been Texans for more than six years and the hot, flat, brown, uninteresting nature of my surroundings had me truly missing the heartland.
Home Sweet Home
In 2012 the opening at Luther College for assistant professor of trumpet had my head spinning. Luther was a dream job, and one that I'd had my eye on for a while. Submitting my materials felt like I was asking for an audition with Adolf "Bud" Herseth (former Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony and Luther graduate). By some grace, I was invited to interview for the job. Call it fate, but the invitation came less than 24 hours after my second baby girl was born. I was on a plane the next week.
You Win some, You Win Some
We moved to Decorah in June of this year, recently bought a house and are getting things moving in a great direction. We couldn’t be happier with Decorah, not to mention being three hours from our extended families.
My experience at Luther has been everything I knew it would be. The students are fantastic, eager and driven and the faculty has been unbelievably welcoming and supportive.
It's somehow strange to look back on the last 10 years with a certain duality. I remember at times thinking that the work would never end and that it was somehow the most important part of my career. On the other hand, arriving at Luther, it's a pure joy to feel like I've just begun.