CTI Podcast - Episode 28: Adam Lambert

Tony Pellegrini: Good morning, good morning listeners! Tony Pellegrini from the CETL office here at Southern Utah University doing our February podcast with Adam Lambert! We are appreciative of you listening and tuning in to find out about teaching and learning here at Southern Utah University. And so, Adam, would you take a moment or two maybe and introduce yourself to us? Tell us a little about yourself. I apologize, I don't know if I've ever had the opportunity to meet you on campus, but we'd love to hear a little bit about you, where you're from, background, why you're here at SUU. 

Adam Lambert: Well, thank you. When you reached out to me, I gotta tell ya, I was honored. This is really an unique privilege for me. I don't get out of the music office or music building very often, so this is really a treat for me. Yeah so, it's hard to imagine it, but I've been here for ten years now. Going on ten years. And you know, I- I guess you can call me a Utahn. I originally- although I have been around quite a bit- I've been in Nebraska- I was there for seven years. I was in Texas for three. So we've had- my family and I have had lots of experiences that kind of led us here. Kind of full circled back. We have a- family here, my parents are still here, and so, you know, being able to be with them in the * * of their life has been kind of a nice thing. But I guess this has been kind of a goal of ours to teach higher ed. You know, I started out in high school. In high school, I taught at Provo- Provo High School for about five years. And from there, we did some adjunct teaching additionally at BYU and then made our way over to Texas, as I say, where I taught adjunct there as well as worked on my doctorate in trumpet performance. And then, worked my way back here to Utah so-

Tony Pellegrini: That's exciting. That's very exciting. And we do want to honor you as one of the Provo Distinguished Educators from graduation last year. And the CETL office, we do want to provide the opportunity to learn a little bit more about those who have earned these awards and honor them as well. So that honor road goes both ways-

Adam Lambert: Ah, thank you-

Tony Pellegrini: -it certainly does. Take a moment, if you would, to share with us why you've decided to become an educator. You know, you've mentioned your family and those kinds of things, but give us a little more detail if you will. What kind of led you to be an educator?

Adam Lambert: Sure, you bet. So I guess it grows out of my love for music and sort of experiences that I've had in my youth that kind of pointed to some interests and talents that I discovered, I guess, through that pathway. I actually grew up in Farmington, UT, if you know where that is from this area, right behind of Lagoon. And it was kind of a thing for me to go to Lagoon about pretty much every other day as a child. And I used to go there and watch the Lagoon Show Band. That was sort of my dream job to land that opportunity to be in the Lagoon Show Band and so it was really almost every single day that I would go out and watch that band and dream that I could be a part of it. As I grew up, I eventually auditioned and got into that group. And one day, they actually had the opportunity to audition to be the director. To be the leader of the Lagoon Show Band. So I thought "why not!" and I jumped into it, and it was kind of an interesting experience. It felt really comfortable being in front of the group and rehearsing. And I found myself being kind of good at it, you know, and the people responding to it, and really just thriving. And it was kind of that moment when I had this thought that I could do this for a living kind of a thing. Or I could really pursue this. So from there, I pursued music education at BYU and had some opportunities to jump in at some assistant roles at American Fork High School, Orem High School. And kind of discovered that it was actually a lot of fun and I was better at it and it kind of continued on from there. My dad also, I should say, was a trombone player, played at a this band, and I used to sit back and watch him play, thinking I just wanted to be just like my dad. So that was also a part of it. I just became something that I was very comfortable with, that I found success in early on. Scholarships kind of lead me through that process. I was able to get a trumpet scholarship at various schools. And you know, I have to say, my love is in both playing and teaching. I don't do so much playing anymore, but back in the day, I used to play professional trumpet in the Salt Lake City area with the Salt Lake State Jazz Festival and the Park City Jazz Festival and that was going on and that sort of thing. But my conducting is where my love is right now. Working with students, and it has led me here so.

Tony Pellegrini: To me, this is absolutely fascinating. You've connected so well with me. Maybe this is a podcast of one. I was a BYU theater student. That's where I was a drama teacher, so we'd look across the Harris Fine Arts Center at the music people and say, "Those people really know their stuff." *Both laughs* So that honor goes all the way back to there. Additionally, your mention for your passion for playing and then moving that passion to a different level to conducting. It's not like, when I became principal, my dad said, "Will you stop changing jobs?!" He was a police officer for 33 years. A police lieutenant. And you know, "Dad! You kind of have to move and develop and grow a little bit." And so I was very impressed with that. 

Adam Lambert: And that's exactly- And you know, it's interesting I don't think it necessarily change my love or my role because I think being a player has made me become a better instructor and conductor. And I think that the idea or that level that I can relate to these students. My experience doesn't come in as an instructor and conductor as one that is disconnected from the performer. I understand what it took to get there. I understand the logistics on what it takes to produce sound. I understand because I had to do it myself. I had to work through that process. But you know, it's interesting too because performing -and I'm saying this carefully because I know it's a wonderful and expressive outlet- but it is a- it certainly is collaborative and I'll share a little bit too later, but the idea that I can be a part of and see other people's success, not just my own solitary success. I think has been in really a growth experience for me. 

Tony Pellegrini: And I'm looking at this from the outside, I can't ever imagine being a conductor, not ever having been a player or something. Or for someone to come in and say "Well I have had all this conductor experience and conducting classes and coursework and I know how to do this" but you could have to connect on that visceral level of being able to do. I really was impressed too by your response to the first question when you said to yourself "Why not? Why not be a trumpet player? Why not give this a try?" Isn't that something you share with your learners as well to say "hey you can do this!"

Adam Lambert: Absolutely! In fact, I think I always kind of like to work towards the highest common denominator. I guess, one of the ones to kind of jump in and give it all that they're got, and the thing that it kind of brings others along with them. The idea that maybe music might be on the edge of their ability. Or maybe the vision of taking them on a tour or festival. Or maybe they're on the edge of something that they're uncomfortable with. They meet that goal most often most of the time if not all of the time. And I like to work towards those strongest students because I keep them and they're excited about it. But the others who perhaps aren't quite at that level, join that enthusiasm and energy and meet that and come along right with them. 

Tony Pellegrini: Oh that power of friendship. That power of peer. You know, to do good things. It can go the other way too but boy, when it can do good things, we sure love that, don't we?

Adam Lambert: Exactly. 

Tony Pellegrini: Let me kind of change the tact, just a little bit. And you've probably addressed this just a little bit already. But I'd like to ask you to dive a little deeper. Do you have a teaching philosophy? Can you share that with us?

Adam Lambert: Absolutely. As I think about that on the top of my head, I'll tell you what. I think the simplest way to frame it is that my philosophy is based on relationships. I feel like relationships with students defines my role and their relationship with me and the relationship with the music and the relationship with their experience in the classroom. Their relationship that they make musically. All about relationships so I feel like in my effort to be student centered entirely, in other words, everything that I try to do professionally, things that I try to do outside of the classroom, needs to circle back to students. It has to be about the students. That's what keeps it exciting for me. That's what keeps it fresh for me. As soon as I started to go inward about what I'm trying to do, then it kind of takes up a selfish mode and frankly, I'm not very happy. But if I can continue my energy toward the students, it seems to really thrive. But then also, I have found that when I work with students, and I strive to, you know I follow a lot of the Covey, Stephen Covey mindsets of being on the same side of the issue as an example. I'm not a proponent of me always having to be on this sort of pedestal as a teacher and a student on a lower level. But being on the same level, so that we can both accomplish being on the same end. I don't think it diminishes my ability to have respect from the students. I think they actually respect me more in some ways because it feels like we can be on that same level. But then again, on simple things like, this may seem obvious, just kindness and being supportive. But also holding them to a standard of excellence and professionalism. There are sort of three pillars that I like to keep in mind. One is how is the instructional environment impacting their learning. What are my goals in terms of organizing the instructional process? So I guess that you can say that I have the instructional environment, the instructional priorities that guide my goals and then the process in how I execute those things. And so, anyways, I guess it kind of circles back to some of the Covey principles that I really believe in. But there's this the concept of deposits and withdrawals- the idea of being able to have enough deposits where they feel comfortable in being corrected and assisted. So they feel comfortable in that space. Anyways. 

Tony Pellegrini: No, that's great. What I really love is the alignment that you've made to that relationship.  Your philosophy and your work with your learners is on developing that relationship with your learners- between learners and you. But also, your learners like you, as you mentioned in your previous response, they're forming peer relationships as well. And making those relationships. So they can see at some point, hey yes i can do this among my peers, you know I've seen how Dr. Lambert has reached out to me and has invested in me. Going back to Covey's investments, his investments in me, I can do that as well too with others.

Adam Lambert: You know, there's a great teacher that I respect. His name is James Jordan from Westminster Choir College. He has a book that is actually quite interesting. I think it's titled Empathy in Music. And the idea is that this is a shared and empathetic experience where each time that we strive to be create music or be within this environment, it's very much an awareness of others. My contribution and their contribution. How together our contribution brings together this art. And it really is a selfless activity. I try to teach that myself, once we come into the room, it's no longer about you it's about us. So rehearsals take on a whole new meaning. You know, in math class, I get the importance of doing well. Sometimes if you don't attend, it doesn't really impact others as much, as it does to you individually. In this context, every last person plays such an important role in accomplishing the end product of excellence. When you catch that vision, then all of the sudden, every last sound you make in that ensemble contributes to a harmony or even a singular unison note, Whatever it is, or the shape of the note is a unified effort. So it's kind of an exciting synergy that can take place.

Tony Pellegrini: that is wonderful. I can, even from my theater arts background, I can sense that passion and vision from you. Certainly and you've just touched down just a little bit that coming together as a group. You know, it's a group experience. As you've come into your classroom, is that part of your classroom management plan as well? Can you take a moment and show how they're kind of tied together?

Adam Lambert: yeah you bet. You know, well first of all, I think it is so important for students to feel safe in my classroom and obviously professionalism and excellence Will be the end Target for our efforts. But at the same time, I just feel like students really need to know that It is OK to make mistakes. In fact, we have sort of a process where we jump into a certain piece or certain line that we're working with and if there is a moment where we are simply just not getting it to the level that we hope. You know, there is instruction where I encouraged them to stop, to mark it, to work on it for just a few minutes. And invite them to come back and hit it again without the feeling of being reprimanded and just a unified goal: hey it's OK we can come back and look at this later. So it's kind of an ownership thing where they understand that their role is to come back with it in the best of their ability. But it's OK to make a mistake. It's part of the process of learning how to accomplish the goal in the end. As far as my classroom, there are a couple of things I try to do, there is an agenda at the door each day that lists all the pieces that we're going to be addressing or rehearsing. Oftentimes I will text it to the group so we've created this well and have that ready to go. Percussionists have a long list of things that they need to get ready before we begin. So 1 o'clock is our down beat for our wind symphony. I should've mentioned this but I actually do a lot of things here. I do the wind symphony, I teach the tub jazz ensemble, I teach private trumpet, so I do a lot of different things. In this particular context, the wind symphony concert band, we start right on at 1 o'clock on the dot, percussion comes early, have a little set up. So there is a sense of pride and professionalism that this is an important thing that they're doing. That they are excited to be a part of. That it is something that they take pride in. And I think there is that sense of looking forward. Usually, everyone understands, all about music making, there is no talking, they respond quite positively to instruction that is given. You know, I found that you don't have to worry about conversation going on, if they are constantly engaging and what their activity is. You know, if they're constantly doing it and bought into it, then they actually do pretty well. And at the end of the day, if they are excited about coming back the next day. then what we have done at this rehearsal is something that has expired them to come back with enthusiasm. Then mission accomplished.

Tony Pellegrini: I think that your focus on process, that this is a process, is so profound saying we're not going to be able to do it all, you're not gonna be able to learn everything today, this is a process and that can be transferred to so many parts of their lives as well. And you know, I was an elementary school principal and the best training i say I ever gotten as an elementary school principal is that Drama training. I can be Kristof or Dumbledore. I can be so many– I can be as if I am that. And I can can extend and practice. Just one last question for you before we break, so much in the news today about social and emotional learning, you've talked about relationships, you've talked about contacts in the process, but what do you do to focus on the social and emotional, lifting your students up or providing social and emotional skills in your class?


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