12 Questions with Vandoren Artist Tim Phillips

by Vandoren

Date Posted: September 07, 2017

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1. How long have you been teaching at Troy University and what’s the most fulfilling aspect of being a university clarinet professor?

This is my 12th year teaching at Troy University. The most fulfilling aspect of being a university clarinet professor is watching my students graduate and impact the lives of their students.

2. How do you manage teaching a large clarinet studio?

I work really hard, because it’s more than just lessons. It’s planning, sudden ideas, unexpected moments, and everything in between. Thankfully I have the help of an awesome co-teacher, Dr. Jennifer Fraley. She teaches some of the students and assists with studio class.

3. What is the weekly program, “Clarinet Corner” and how did you create it?

It’s a radio program on WTSU- Troy Public Radio. I came up with the idea because I have a ton of great recordings and a local composer, Dr. Carl Vollrath, suggested that I approach the radio station with the idea for a show. So I went over there and talked to them and Clarinet Corner was born.

4. Do you have any projects in the works?

Troy University Clarinet Day will be in its 11th year in 2018. Planning this event is a yearlong process. There are guest artists, high school students, college students, vendors, band directors, and many others involved. It’s a big job. Also, I’m always planning Clarinet Corner shows. I have probably about 15 shows lined up, with great new CDs and guest interviews. Some notable ones are: Christopher Nichols (the clarinet professor at the University of Delaware), Evan Christopher (an incredible New Orleans clarinetist who will be visiting my show for the second time), and a three-part interview with clarinet legend Stanley Drucker. Also, I practice my clarinet everyday and I play recitals and gigs as often as I can.

5. What is your current setup?

I play on a Vandoren B40 13 mouthpiece with Vandoren V12 and 56 strength 3 and 3/12 reeds. My clarinet is Buffet Tosca.

6. What’s your favorite piece of clarinet music and why?

My favorite piece of clarinet music is the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. I first learned to love the clarinet with Benny Goodman’s jazz, Robert Marcellus’s recording of the Mozart Concerto, and Harold Wright’s recording of the Mozart Quintet. But the Brahms Clarinet Quintet is my favorite. I have several recordings, and I’ve performed the piece too.

7. When did you decide you wanted to be a musician, and what drew you to that decision?

I decided when I was a junior in high school. I practiced all summer for an honor band that I had never made and I told my parents, “If I make first chair in this band, I’ll major in music.” I never thought I’d get first chair. I just worked really hard and loved the clarinet. And guess what? I got first chair in the band. Regardless of this, I already loved music so much, I had to major in music and pursue this as my career. But this moment sealed the deal. Have there been moments of questioning along the way? Yes! Many. But I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing with my life than playing the clarinet and teaching music.

8. Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?

My parents. They taught me everything. For clarinet? My first teacher, Clinton Gregory, taught me the basics and led me to love music and the clarinet. I owe so much to him. My first college professor, Phillip Aaholm, taught me not to take myself so seriously and to find some fun in these notes. My teacher Bil Jackson taught me to think carefully about every aspect of my clarinet playing. My teacher Daniel Silver taught me to think about my body, the clarinet, and expressing my music sincerely. And my last teacher, J. David Harris, told me to relax and just enjoy this musical journey. I’m so grateful to all of them for making me into the person I am now.

9. Who are your musical inspirations?

My first clarinet icon was Benny Goodman. This was followed by Robert Marcellus and Harold Wright. I later learned about Daniel Bonade and Ralph McLane. And in my more recent years, I’ve been extremely drawn to the playing of Florent Héau, Philippe Berrod, Martin Fröst, Alessandro Carbonare, and Jan Jakub Bokun. I was also very influenced by my teachers.

10. What are the greatest challenges you have faced as a musician and how have you overcome them?

The biggest hurdle I’ve faced is approaching being a musician as a career, with its specific requirements and qualities. My dad is an electrician. He works from 7am until 4pm everyday. When I first became a musician, I felt terrible if I wasn’t practicing all the hours he was working. But that’s not really how it works as a musician. You sometimes perform at night, you might practice at odd times, and you end up sleeping when you can. I used to be ashamed of this weird schedule, but now I’ve learned to be kind to myself and listen to my body and my brain. I do my best to function as I can within the circumstances of my weird life.

11. Do you have any particularly memorable performances?

I can tell you one that was not mine. It was when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I had just finished a particularly trying semester with my teacher, Bil Jackson. He’s a demanding guy and I often felt like I wasn’t living up to his standards. Then he played a recital on campus: the Brahms and Frühling Trios with Judith Glyde, cello and Robert Spillman, piano. I had never really listened to these pieces in their entirety. And to be honest, I was a little conflicted about my feelings toward my relationship with the clarinet at the time. But this is one of the best performances I’d ever heard. It reminded me how much I love music. It taught me that whatever personal struggles I might be facing, it’s important to find the purity of a sound, and a phrase, and a musical intention.

12. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician?

The most fulfilling aspect of my life as a musician has been two fold. The first is: I met my wife in music. We went to junior high and high school together, then later college. She’s my best friend, my inspiration, and my constant teacher. She has given me all the best things in life and we have two very fun children. And whenever I need her to, she can tell me what I need to work on in my clarinet playing. The second is my relationship with my students. It is endlessly fulfilling for me to see them out in the world teaching and impacting the lives of their students. This goes beyond the clarinet and has much larger implications. I know that each of them (whether they’re a private teacher, a band director, a general music teacher, or even someone working outside the field of music) knows the value of music and the emotional value it can bring. And I know they understand that it can be fun. What’s more important than happiness?

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