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David Cook is assistant professor of clarinet at Millikin University (Decatur, IL) and principal clarinet of the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra.
I hesitate to say there is such thing as a “typical day” in the life of a university professor, especially one teaching applied musical instruction. I’ve summarized one specific day in September that is fairly representative of the variety of events during a given week.
8:30–9:20 AM: teach second-year aural skills (twentieth-century materials)
9:30–10:30 AM: keyboard exams for my music theory classes
11:00–11:50 AM: teach first-year aural skills (intervals transcription, minor-mode sight singing)
12–1 PM: teach clarinet lesson, first-year music education major
1:30–2:00 PM: teach clarinet lesson, first-year music minor
3–4 PM: teach clarinet lesson, second-year music performance major
4–6 PM: teach private students through Preparatory Department, middle school to high school ages
7:15–9:45 PM: Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra rehearsal (Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring)
I aim to fit practicing into the smaller gaps in my schedule each day, including a block of time from 7:30 AM until my first class. Procuring a solid and fundamentally sound warmup each morning makes it much easier to go back to the instrument later in the day. I also try to be as efficient with my time as possible—e.g. grading homework assignments while eating lunch, answering emails from students and colleagues between lessons. One of my goals this year is to exercise more, both for general health reasons and because I play better when I am physically active. I managed to get a four-mile run in before breakfast on this day, which unfortunately meant waking up at 5:30 AM.
I never have as much time to practice as I would like, which means I have to be very efficient with my time. The value of listening to repertoire recordings, incorporating diverse and varied practice techniques such as rhythmic variation or downbeat displacement, and score study away from the instrument cannot be overstated. I liken our approach to practicing as assembling a toolbox—you want to have as many tools as possible at your disposal in order to craft an exquisite example of carpentry.
To paraphrase Abraham Maslow in The Psychology of Science: if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. One could perhaps build a chair with only a hammer, but it won’t compare to a chair made with numerous tools. Similarly, if we only practice our music in one manner, we’re limiting our ability to give beautiful and artistic performances.