In this series, I interview musicians about their experiences in academia. I hope their stories will help readers forge their own paths, in or out of the institution.
I recently interviewed violist Katrin Meidell, who enjoys a prolific career as a performer, pedagogue, and lecturer. Her diverse abilities have taken her across the USA, to Canada, Finland, Austria, Poland, Brazil, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. She has performed with the Indianapolis and Fort Worth Symphonies, the Fort Wayne and Boston Philharmonics, and freelance orchestras throughout Georgia, Indiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. Meidell has been published in the Journal of the American Viola Society and American String Teacher, and has been a proud Board Member of the American Viola Society since 2016. Meidell holds degrees from Boston University, New England Conservatory, and the University of North Texas, where her viola teachers were Michelle LaCourse, Carol Rodland, and Dr. Susan Dubois. Dr. Meidell is Associate Professor of Viola at the Schwob School of Music, Columbus State University.
ASN: You recently earned tenure at your institution. Tell us about some of the things you needed to do—you know, the boring stuff like portfolios and evaluations.
KM: In order to attain tenure, it was incredibly important to stay organized, not to mention BE organized throughout my Assistant Professor years. Most institutions require information about the three pillars of academic success—Teaching, Scholarship, and Service.
Within teaching, I had to keep careful track of all of my activities, including trial lessons with potential students, outreach events, recruiting events (including number of participants), my students’ accomplishments, and uploading all course evaluation information from every class I taught, every year. It’s not enough to say you did X, Y, or Z—you have to document these things, whether with concert programs, emails, letters, or otherwise.
Each and every thing you submit with your file must be documented, which means you need to get organized fast. When things were more paper-based, I’d print any email that could serve as documentation (i.e. conference acceptance, invitation to perform a concerto, gushing email from trial student about what an amazing lesson they had with me, etc.) and put it in my Tenure/Promotion drawer at work. About once a semester I would organize those pieces of paper so that when it came time to file them all into my tenure binder, part of the work was already done. Now that things are more digitally based, I have a folder on my computer’s desktop called “Add to Tenure File,” and continually drag things in to it so that I don’t forget anything. It’s also crucial to keep your calendar up to date, so that when it comes time to submit your file you can go through your calendar and make sure every concert, trial lesson, and everything else, is properly entered in your tenure file.
Scholarship, for a teaching artist such as myself, consists mostly of performances, conference presentations, and if you have the resources, recording albums. Writing articles for peer-reviewed journals is also good, but not as important as it is for someone in theory or musicology, for example. Even before finishing my doctorate, I started submitting a fair number of conference proposals every year, so that I would always have at least one accepted proposal at a national or international conference. This, a CD, and regular performances (solo recitals, chamber music collaborations, orchestral concerts, occasionally soloing with orchestras) made up the bulk of my Scholarship pillar. Again, every thing must be documented, so be sure to keep every invitation and every concert program.
For Service, activities with school-, college-, and university-level committees needed to be documented, including approximate number of hours spent. Service outside of the institution is also important, so applying to be on the board of your field’s major organization (for me it’s the American Viola Society, for whom I’ve been a board member since 2016) or an organization within the field (College Music Society, American String Teachers Association, etc.) is also important. It is usually also an excellent way to expand your network and to meet other movers and shakers within the field. Though you are not paid for Service, it is an integral part of being a university professor. And don’t think that being elected to such a board or committee is only a line on your CV—it is incredibly important to stay engaged and involved in these committees. I’d actually say it’s worse to be on a committee and not do anything than not apply to be on it in the first place. Be sure to leave time in your weekly schedule to participate in your Service activities.
Beyond my own teaching, scholarship, and service activities, it was necessary to have annual evaluations with my department chair, and to go through a pre-tenure review process with colleagues. These meetings and events are meant to steer you in the right direction if anything is amiss, and though they can be daunting at first, are important evaluations for your continued success.
Shortly before my tenure file was due, my institution went to an all digital submission format, which meant setting aside countless hours to digitize all of my concert programs, etc. and to propagating my information into the proper drop-down menus within the digital program. In addition to putting all of my activities into a CV using the proper formatting per my university (which was different at Ball State than Columbus State, which meant more hours converting my pretty BSU CV to a new, pretty CSU CV), I had to write a letter to the tenure committee highlighting my activities. The overall key to getting it all done was organization, and prioritizing the tenure file above all else (don’t tell my administration, but I was pretty late with my course syllabi the semester I submitted!!).
ASN: You spent a few years at another institution before moving to this one. What made you feel like that was the right move?
KM: In 2013 I started as Assistant Professor of Viola at Ball State University. It was an excellent first tenure-track job, but it was not all rainbows and unicorns. The viola studio was extremely small when I got there, so the first years I was 100% focused on recruiting. That’s one of those things you’re not exactly taught in music school—I definitely spend a LOT of time on recruiting activities, even now. Unlike a star high school football player, whom coaches from college programs approach with promises of glory and scholarships (backed by the institution, fans, and lots of money) recruiting music majors is essentially a one-person job. While administration obviously helps with the financial aspect, and having excellent ensembles helps showcase the other student talent, YOU need to charm the prospective student and show them what studying with YOU can do for them.
I learned a lot while at Ball State, and was really happy with the program I built. After five years though, it was definitely time to move on and I was really happy to have been offered the position I now hold, at the Schwob School of Music, Columbus State University, in Georgia. BSU had a lot of music education majors, and nearly all of my students throughout my years at BSU graduated with MusEd degrees. While I am extremely proud of all of my amazing BSU students and their accomplishments, I have a soft spot for performance majors. At Schwob, nearly all of my students are performance majors. It creates a different atmosphere in the studio— everyone is committed to the highest level of performance they can attain, and for me, that is an especially rewarding group of students to teach. As a conservatory-style program within a university, Schwob offers a more concentrated music education than you typically get at a university, and that difference is evident from the minute you walk in the building. Everyone is immersed in music all of the time, and that is exactly the kind of place I want to be. Overall I feel Schwob is a better fit than BSU was, but I am grateful for the time and experience I had at BSU, if for no other reason than it lead me to Schwob.
ASN: What activities and experiences do you think have made you attractive to these institutions?
KM: I’d say it’s the breadth of activities and experiences I’ve had and bring to the table. I’m not a one-hit wonder in that I only do one thing well. I teach well, I play well, I recruit well, I have expertise in a related field, I respond to emails, I’m cordial, I write well, I don’t make waves (most of the time!), I’m helpful, I volunteer for committees, I’m engaged in school, college, and university proceedings, I’m active in professional societies, etc. etc. etc. Being a successful music professor at a university requires skills in much more than simply your instrument. Of course it starts there, and none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t had amazing teachers. Because of them, I play well. Because of them I teach well. Because of my parents and upbringing I am organized and efficient. I am a good colleague, am friendly, and do what I can to help.
Check out Katrin’s performance of Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio for clarinet, viola, and piano below: