Music & Academia (In or Out): Interview with Nicole Gillotti

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 Nicole Gillotti. Nicole is Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU). In addition to teaching, she is an active freelance musician. She has performed with many professional ensembles as well as her trio Hint of Lime Brass. Nicole received a B.S. in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, M.M. in Trumpet Performance from Illinois State University, and D.M.A. in Trumpet Performance and Literature from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

ASN: You started at Texas A&M International University as an adjunct, then landed a tenure-track position. What are some of the differences you’ve noticed in workload, expectations, etc.?

NG: As an adjunct, I was teaching the trumpet studio, brass ensemble (chamber groups), student recruitment, and music appreciation. Because the adjunct salary rate is less than a tenure salary and I was solely living off this income, my immediate superiors wanted to make sure that my teaching load represented that of full-time faculty. In some semesters, I had a teaching load as heavy as 15 SCH (student credit hours) so I had my hands full. As an adjunct, my responsibility was solely to teach my classes and trumpet students—no faculty meetings, committee obligations, administrative tasks, etc.

Going into the tenure-track (TT) position, my teaching load has been reduced with the expectation that I use this time for professional development and research. At TAMIU, new TT faculty only teach 6 SCH per semester for the first two years. This gradually increases in the third year (2 in Fall, 3 in spring). Texas is also unique in that new TT faculty are given start-up funds for research, which is very exciting. Through this, I’ve been able to secure funds to record a solo CD in Summer ’22 and continue participating in Tom Hooten’s (principal trumpet of LA Phil) Trumpet Mastery Course. I know that these two projects are going to help me continue growing as a musician, professional, and educator.

ASN: What do you think made you attractive to TAMIU in the first place?

NG: One of the biggest questions I am asked is, “How did you end up in Laredo?” especially with my path up to this point (Laredo sits on the border of the US and Mexico with a primarily Latino population, and I am a white female).  Initially, I had a lot of mutual connections with our department chair, so that absolutely helped. We both are originally from the same general area of Pennsylvania and each performed with the two oldest municipal/community bands in the United States.  I completed my DMA at the University of IL, and he was department chair at Millikin University, so we have the mutual Central IL connection as well. I’ve performed with Millikin’s symphony orchestra and he performed with one of my former teachers, Ronald Romm, when Canadian Brass performed at Millikin as well. I remember that he called me in Summer ’19 for a quasi-phone interview and we bonded over all of our mutual contacts!

Of course, the tenure-track search with my current position was more involved. During my time as an adjunct, the studio had net growth from 5-9 students. Additionally, I coached a trumpet ensemble that made semi-finals for the National Trumpet Competition, and this is the first time that has happened in the history of the university. The faculty knew that I had the energy and drive to cultivate something greater for the trumpet studio and I was passionate about working with my students. Additionally, I felt that the final interview gave me an opportunity to show them that I was someone who was enthusiastic about continuing my work with my current colleagues, many with whom I had already developed positive working relationships and friendships.

ASN: Tell me about balancing this position with your performance life. How often do you perform with each ensemble?

NG: Obviously with the pandemic that has been less of an issue. I am one of the founding members of Hint of Lime Brass Trio. This experience has been unique and fun because we all live in different regions of the country, so I’ve gotten to go to many different places with the group. So far, we’ve been able to rehearse and perform in some capacity about three times a year. Most of my performing happens with ensembles that are 2-3 hours outside of Laredo. My main goal is to make sure that I can continue my performance life without my students feeling like they are not prioritized. When I know that I have an obligation with the trio or an ensemble outside of Laredo, I usually re-arrange my teaching schedule so that my students have 2 lessons before I leave for a week. They always know they can reach me via text if they have any questions. With brass ensemble and chamber groups, it’s my goal to make these groups self-sufficient, because this is what the students will encounter in their professional life. I require that they develop a schedule and rehearse by themselves in addition to my coaching, and I feel like they develop more as an ensemble through that process.  Additionally, many of the students have expressed how much they appreciate a slightly more “hands-off” approach.

I think there are some performance things that I can integrate into my work at TAMIU. For instance, preparing for my first solo album, I am planning on giving a faculty recital to showcase this repertoire. In addition, in commissioning works for this album, I emphasize that I want solo pieces that can be performed by my students and integrated into a solo recital without being too physically taxing.

ASN: What advice can you give performers about to go on the TT market? Where should they focus their energies?

I think the best advice I can give to candidates is to diversify your experiences. Say YES to anything that gives you an opportunity to learn a new skillset or embellish upon the ones you have. I think universities are generally looking for a diversified candidate who is proficient in a variety of areas and can teach multiple courses.

Check out Nicole’s group Hint of Lime:

And a quick fanfare by Reiche:

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