Dr. Nicholas Smith
The Hornsmith

Teaching Philosophy

I have had the good fortune to spend most of my career in a situation which has been a great balance of teaching and playing and this is exactly what I wanted as a young professional back in the mid-1970's. When I first came to Wichita in 1975 there were a number of other teaching /playing positions in the U.S. which had a similar mix of teaching and performance, so I thought that would always be how most teaching positions would be. However, as I looked at other situations over the years, I began to notice that the performance aspect, and particularly ensemble performance, seemed to be emphasized less and less. Today there are very few teaching positions which demand the amount of performance we have here at Wichita and this should be considered a big benefit to the students who attend our School of Music. Our students can hear their teachers play on a very regular basis in both large (The Wichita Symphony Orchestra) and small ensemble situations (faculty ensembles like the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet, the Wichita Brass Quintet, and the Fairmount String Quartet).

Music is a group enterprise, at least in most professional (pays money!) situations. Solo recitals are always fun to do, but, let's face it, there are only going to be a handful of players who can make any kind of living as a soloist. That reality has always governed the way I teach. My goal as a teacher is:

  1. To train young players to be able to sit down in any ensemble situation be it large or small and play the part in tune, with good balance, with correct rhythms, using proper stylistic articulations, and with a good sense of how to approach the general style of the music.
  2. To play with a high level of accuracy. While the horn has always been considered a difficult instrument to play accurately, I have developed a number of techniques over the years which have helped most students play with good accuracy in most any ensemble situation. (Please see the section on my book "Don't Miss" for some excerpts of helpful ideas.
  3. To stress upon students the importance of working together to create wonderful music. Each player in a section or ensemble should be able to know when they have a melodic line or a supporting line in the music and play accordingly. To be a good "musical citizen" is to know when you can play out and when you need to be part of the texture. I would much rather have a student of lesser talent who is able to work well with others as opposed to a super talented egocentric. It is important to learn that working with others to produce music is often a product of discussion, consensus, and compromise.
  4. To prepare students to move on to the next phase of their career goals. In the case of undergraduate performance students it is usually preparation for a graduate degree program at one of the well known music schools at a university or conservatory. For the graduate students, it means preparation for auditions and a professional playing job in an orchestra, service band, chamber ensemble, free- lancing in a major metropolitan area, or a combination of the above. A look at the section on alumni will show what former students have done.
  5. To make no distinction between performance and education majors. Music Education majors are often given second-class status because of their degree choice. My philosophy has always been to treat every student equally and, if they play well enough to sit in a principal chair or as a soloist, they will have the opportunity. I feel strongly that the best way to train musicianship is through vigorous training on the student's instrument. This good musicianship is then imparted to the next generation of students in public and private schools.
  6. To provide a nurturing but very active musical environment for students. Wichita State and the musical scene in the Wichita area provide students with a wealth of opportunities to hear and be a part of excellent musical performances. I remember a conversation with the well-known American composer Gunther Schuller during a residency a couple of years after my arrival in Wichita. He told me that Wichita had gained a great reputation as a model for music education through the synergy of its musical programs in the public schools, its youth symphony programs, its university programs, and the performance level of the Wichita Symphony. I feel very fortunate to have been able to teach, perform, and work in this kind of environment.

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