Percussion Faculty Member Profile: Jeff Irving

Jeff Irving has been teaching at the Interlochen Arts Camp since 2011 and is an Interlochen Arts Academy graduate. When he's not teaching at Interlochen, he is an extra percussionist for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and freelances on Broadway and throughout New York City.

Q: Tell us about your very first experience with Interlochen.

A: I didn't come from an artistic family, nor did I grow up in an environment that valued music or art in general on the whole.

So, as my interest in playing percussion grew I began to feel more and more like an outcast and quickly tapped out my resources. Thankfully I had a very wise and generous band director in middle school who told me about this school called Interlochen and supportive parents who were open to finding out what it was all about. I'll never forget the day I set foot on the campus to visit and audition. It was a "Through the Looking Glass" kind of experience: I suddenly found myself in this magical world where there were all these people who valued what I valued - people who were creative, intelligent, unique, open-minded, independent, supportive of each other, and were doing things artistically that I didn't even know were possible. When I looked back through the glass at where I came from, I knew I had to find a way to never go back. That is seriously one of my most powerful memories.

Q: Tell us about your experience as a student at Interlochen. How did it impact you as a student and now as a professional?

A: I was a student at the Arts Academy from 1992-1996. Class days were packed full with large ensemble rehearsals, percussion ensemble, demanding academic classes and private lessons and evenings were occupied by multiple hours of practicing and homework. It was grueling, but in the most amazing possible way. Being expected to not only deal with that, but excel at it forced me to learn how to manage my time and taught me how to be completely responsible for myself and my actions. This doesn't happen for most students until they get to college, if ever. As a professional, being a freelancer, teacher and business owner requires me to stay on top of a lot of different things. Without learning those lessons at such a young age at Interlochen, I'm not sure I would be as effective and successful today.

Q: Does your experience as a student at Interlochen impact your teaching methods and/or philosophy at the Arts Camp?

A: The Arts Camp is a much different experience from the Arts Academy and because I've had experience on faculty at both (I was the sabbatical replacement for my former teacher, John Alfieri, during the fall semester of 2011). I feel I can safely say that teaching at the Arts Camp requires a much different approach. For the students, Arts Camp is like running a 100-yard dash and the Arts Academy is a marathon. In my role as a teacher at the Arts Camp, I get to be the really cool uncle while at the Arts Academy you sort of have to be a parent. What the Arts Camp and the Arts Academy do share, however, is that they both give students an experience far greater than anything they could ever have had at home. I try to create an environment for my students at camp wherein they feel like they belong, they can explore who they are as musicians and people while simultaneously striving for a certain objective level of excellence and are able to achieve things they never even knew were possible. The Academy did that for me in 4 years and I think the camp can do a similar thing in 6 weeks.

Q: What is your greatest musical moment at Interlochen? Both as a student and as a faculty member.

A: One of the greatest musical moments for me was during my senior year at the Arts Academy when I was a finalist in the concerto competition and lost. Yes, you read that right. I lost and it was great! Why? Because I lost to Anthony McGill, the current Principal Clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, who played the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, which has one of the most involved and soloistic snare drum parts in all of the orchestral repertoire. And because I was principal in the orchestra at the time, I got to play it! It's a very technically and musically challenging piece and was definitely an undertaking. The icing on the cake was that because of the snare drum's integral role in the piece and then conductor Matthew Hazelwood's affinity for percussion (he was a timpanist himself). He had me positioned in the front of the orchestra between the violins and violas. I was a pretty intense student and had a lot of strong opinions at that age, but I never was one to thrive easily in the spotlight, so being featured in this way was a bit nerve-wracking for me. I was crazy nervous before the concert, but I think I pulled it off! I should pull that out of the library this summer and give it a listen ...

As a faculty member, my most rewarding musical moment was the first percussion ensemble concert of the 2011-2012 Arts Academy year. That fall semester was my first experience being in charge of a department at an institution as prestigious and meaningful to me as Interlochen. I felt deep sense of responsibility to my students, to John Alfieri, the legacy of percussion at Interlochen and to many of my former teachers who were now my colleagues and would be in the audience, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. The department was small that year, but there was a lot of talent so I chose an ambitious program for the first concert: David T. Little Speak Softly, Jared Soldiviero Perception Piece, Russell Hartenberger Sky Ghost from The Invisible Proverb, Joseph Tompkins Trio In a Rudimental Style and John Cage Third Construction. That was a LOT to put together in 5-6 weeks! As the concert date was getting closer, I was growing ever more apprehensive about our ability to pull it all off, but after all was said and done, the students did a fantastic job and I got an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from my friends and colleagues.