This week, we are excited to share an interview with Dr. Caroline Steiger, Assistant Professor of Music and Artist/Teacher of Horn at Texas State University. We love her thoughts on education and the changing nature of the music world!
About Caroline Steiger
Dr. Caroline Steiger is an active teacher, clinician, and performer both in large and small ensemble settings. Caroline grew up in Southeast Michigan and went on to study at the University of Michigan, earning a B.M. in Horn performance with Teacher Certification in 2010, Penn State University where she earned her M.M. in Horn Performance, and the University of Michigan, earning her D.M.A. in performance in 2015.
Dr. Steiger is currently the Assistant Professor of Music and Artist/Teacher of Horn at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. She has held positions at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music (Visiting Assistant Professor of Horn, 2014), Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp (Horn Instructor, Summer 2017), Penn State University (Teacher Assistant), and the University of Michigan (Graduate Student Assistant). Several of her students have gone on to study music at the undergraduate and graduate level, while her high school and middle school students have participated in State Solo and Ensemble (MI) as well as the Michigan Youth Arts Festival. While at Penn State University, Caroline was the Assistant Director of the Penn State Horn Ensemble and helped plan tours that included performances at the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association (PMEA) conference, Lancaster, and Hershey, PA.
Dr. Steiger’s work as a musician includes regular performances with the Mid-Texas Symphony and Round Rock Symphony Orchestras. She has played with the San Antonio Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, Toledo Symphony Orchestra, and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra during their 2015 US tour. In addition, Caroline has held Principal positions with the Dearborn Symphony (Dearborn, MI), Adrian Symphony (Adrian, MI), Rochester Symphony (Rochester, MI), Oakland Symphony (Rochester, MI), Orchestra of Northern New York (Potsdam, NY), and the Northern Symphonic Winds (Potsdam, NY). Caroline has performed in great halls across the country, including Carnegie Hall, Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, and Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, getting a chance to work with conductors such as Valery Gergiev, Leonard Slatkin, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, Stefan Sanderling, Lio Kuokman, Karina Canellakis, and Giordano Bellincampi.
Committed to chamber music, Caroline has played with the Potsdam Brass Quintet, faculty quintet-in-residence at SUNY Potsdam, the Emblems Woodwind Quintet, an Ann Arbor-based quintet focused on performing new and underrepresented works, and in 2015 participated in a chamber music residency at the University of Michigan with New York Philharmonic principal winds where she performed with Philip Myers.
Dr. Steiger’s main teachers include Adam Unsworth, Bryan Kennedy, Lisa Bontrager, Soren Hermansson, and Corbin Wagner. She has also studied with and participated in masterclasses with Gail Williams, Fergus McWilliam, David Krehbiel, Robert Ward, Bernhard Scully, and Jeffrey Lang.
1. How long have you been teaching privately, and how long as a college professor? What do you love about teaching horn? Any favorite teaching moments?
I started teaching privately when I was still in high school. I didn’t have more than one or two students, and I wasn’t very good, but it was a great learning experience. This is my second year teaching horn at Texas State University, I also taught at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music for a semester in 2014. I love teaching people about music and helping them to be better musicians, the horn is just the medium to make that music. I live for the moment where students start to own their musical decisions, when they reach the point in their studies where their fundamental skills are strong enough for them to realize their musical voice on the instrument. As a teacher, it is so hard to watch students struggle through technical problems, but the best part is seeing students in real time start to master those techniques. You can literally see a light bulb turn on and, suddenly, everything starts to make sense to them and they start to draw more connections. I love those moments!
2. You recently moved from Michigan to Texas to begin teaching at Texas State University. Have you noticed any significant differences between the music worlds in the Midwest and in Texas? If so, what are they?
I haven’t noticed significant differences, people are teaching music in many of the same ways here in Texas as they do in Michigan, but everything is on a much bigger scale. There are many large school districts closer to the cities, but there are also many small communities across the state. Texas is a large state (you think you know how big it is, but you don’t really know until you start driving in Texas), and there are many different regions, cultures, traditions, and backgrounds represented. All of these reasons make it difficult to prepare future educators to teach in Texas.
I tried early on to learn as much as I could about things like their all-state audition process and solo contests, that was a huge learning curve. It is very normal here in Texas for students to work on the same etudes for All-State auditions for 4-6 months, and when students start studying music at the collegiate level it seems to take a little while to get them used to working on more material over a shorter time span. I didn’t know about this when I started last year, so that was something I had to figure out and learn how to accommodate better.
3. How did you build your current studio? Namely, how have you gone about recruiting students, creating a strong studio dynamic, and so on?
I’m still in the process of building my studio and I always will be, but I was fortunate to start last school year with 15 strong horn players. When you are new, retention of students is always hard to negotiate because they didn’t come to that school to study with you, so part of last year was very intentionally getting to know each student: their playing, their interests. I tried to communicate at all times that my job was to help them accomplish their goals and to support them. Most of the strong studio dynamic I inherited from my predecessor, Steve Hager, and I owe him a great deal! My students are great people, hard workers, incredibly smart and caring, and interested in learning. I couldn’t ask for a better studio to get started with!
I also have to think about future students. I give clinics, adjudicate local all-state auditions, and say ‘yes’ to anything that the Texas Music Educators Association offers me. I won a couple auditions last year with local orchestras, which helped to make more connections with private teachers in the area. This sounds much more strategic than it really is, it really boils down to being genuine and seeking out opportunities. I obviously still have quite a bit of work to do in this area, but I have been very fortunate in getting some great opportunities early on that have made me more visible to potential students.
4. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?
This is a great question, and I’m not sure if I have a great answer at the moment. When I was younger, it never dawned on me that being a woman and a brass player was ever a big deal. Later when I was auditioning for graduate programs, I made it a point to seek out a woman to study with, because I realized I had never studied with anyone more like me. I had always studied with men who were tall and didn’t have to worry about things like lung capacity!
Being a bit older now and seeing more of the music world, I see my role as a woman, as someone who still isn’t represented equally in the orchestra and especially in universities, as a very important role now. While I can never truly understand what another person is going through, by being underrepresented in my field, I have more empathy for others who are underrepresented. I can influence my students to be more empathetic towards others and I can help to change the canon of horn literature to include music by underrepresented composers. I can encourage my students to listen to more of a wider range of musicians. Because of my experiences as a woman in the brass field I can’t turn a blind eye to the future of other underrepresented musicians, and I do feel a responsibility to doing everything I can to help make their journey easier.
5. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own and for your students?
Teaching and preparing students for the future of music and music education is a big talking point in higher education at the moment. There are some obvious changes occurring in music today, and while there are always scary articles and commenters that talk about how classical music is “dead,” I believe this is an exciting time to be a musician! Because of technology, social media, easier access to recording, etc, musicians can be diverse, entrepreneurial, interested in crossing art forms, and they are only limited by their imaginations. As an educator of these future musicians, I feel I need to help them see what interests they have beyond the horn and to try to help them realize how those interests could come together to form a future career. We need to hustle more in today’s musical climate, we have to want to work harder every day and seek out more opportunities (and possibly create new opportunities). The great news is that, no matter how niche or even brand new our interests and passions are, there is a way to live and thrive as musicians. There will be people that share our interests, there will be future students that are inspired by something brand new, and, before we know it, something that was on the fringe suddenly has momentum and recognition! Today’s musician has to be more fearless and more creative, and as a teacher it’s my job to help instruct and inspire people to rise to those challenges.
On a more practical level, I love talking to my students about how to manage their lives better. Time management is incredibly important, not just to make sure everything gets done, but with their limited time I try to stress that they shouldn’t ever waste time in a practice room by not having a plan (daily and weekly goals). Through lessons, recitals, and concerts, there are opportunities to talk about self-promotion, having a website, making posters, having a clear vision for their musical ideas, and knowing how to manage their finances. I was lucky that I was taught how to manage a budget when I was much younger, but I’m as addicted to budgeting as anyone can be. If my students graduate from Texas State and all they learned was how to have a savings goal, I will be happy!
6. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?
I’m lucky to be in a position where I can effect change, because everything I wish I had learned at a younger age I can now teach to my students. I wish someone had taught me how to practice more efficiently when I was younger, so I try to emphasize that quite a bit with my students. I injured myself multiple times because I didn’t know how to break up etudes and practice sessions into manageable units, I had to learn that through a lot of trial and error. So now I talk to my students about that in their lessons, we talk about practice techniques, I have them keep practice journals to organize their goals and their thoughts about each practice session. I communicate to them that they don’t have to spend hours and hours in a practice room working on one Kopprasch etude if they can focus on very small and very specific challenges in each practice session. I ask my students questions in every lesson about how they thought their performance of whatever musical example went, and if they had a few more days to practice it, what they would improve and how they would improve it. There are also many more resources about practicing and learning music, people who seem to have had similar struggles and they spent their time researching and writing about the most effective and efficient ways to learn music.
I hope that younger female musicians understand that they don’t have to be “better” than a male musician. I want them to know that their opportunities are truly unlimited, and while they may still be underrepresented, there is a place for them if they are willing to be brave and to place themselves in situations where they may feel like an outsider. I do hope that the musical world makes faster strides to be more open and accommodating to everyone, but until that happens, we all need to encourage each other, to help each other, to listen to each other, and to support each other.
7. Any resources you recommend? For example, are there any books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, etc?
My all-time favorite recordings for inspiration:
- Gail Williams “Deep Remembering”
- Adam Unsworth “Snapshots”
- Kathryn Goodson, Don Sinta, Tim McAllister, Randy Hawes, and Gail Williams “Belle Nuit”
- Denise Tryon “So Low”
- Columbia Symphony, Bruno Walter: Bruckner Symphony No. 9
Recordings that have my attention right now:
- Hamilton Soundtrack
- Aubrey Logan “Impossible”
- Del Sol String Quartet’s recording of Lou Harrison’s String Quartet Set
- Marie Luise Neunecker, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Saschko Gawriloff’s recording of the Ligeti Trio (but anyone brave enough to record this piece is worth listening to)