Presidential Address January 27, 2023
Dr. Diana Sipes, TAMS President

Greetings fellow colleagues, friends, and guests. I am so glad to see you all here today, together, connecting and reconnecting. Thank you to Dr. Cindy Bridges for organizing a terrific meeting so far, and to the TAMS Board for their work. When I was thinking about what I might say here today, I was feeling a little stuck. You all are so intelligent, experienced, creative – you’re a daunting bunch! Then last weekend, I was sitting in an orchestra rehearsal with one of the lead singers of the rock band Chicago, Jason Scheff. I was totally “fan girling” over the whole experience – I mean, Chicago is the only rock concert I’ve ever attended live! (I know, pretty lame.) I would never have believed when I saw them over three decades ago as a college student that I would someday be performing in an orchestra behind one of them. Our professional and personal lives are full of these interesting coincidences and intersections that sometimes have long-lasting consequences – although we may not realize it at the time. Sometimes our paths simply cross, like cars passing in a traffic intersection, but sometimes the intersection leads to connection. Of course, if those cars in the traffic intersection actually connect, it unfortunately leads to phone calls to police and insurance companies! Fortunately, our personal and professional connections mostly lead to happier outcomes. My second intersection with Chicago across time, between me as a college student hearing a famous band in concert, and then me as a professional orchestral musician sitting on stage with one of them in the future – well, it was quite thrilling, I must admit. And this time, the intersection became, ever so briefly, a connection through performance - and when I asked him to sign my well-worn college CD!

So many intersections that might seem insignificant at the time can lead to life-changing consequences. I noticed that both Bill Ballenger, our keynote speaker last night, and Jay Perdue, our luncheon speaker today, made observations like this, too. A personal example of mine for you: A set of happy accidents – unplanned intersections – landed me in south Texas. Texas A&M-Kingsville needed a flute professor pronto during the winter break before 1993 and 1994. The sax professor there, Jim, also attended the University of South Carolina, as I had, so he called his former sax professor there to see if he knew of any flutists with graduate degrees seeking college teaching. Jim was referred to another South Carolina flutist who could not take the job, but she suggested that he find me at LSU, where I was working on my doctorate. It just so happened that I had returned to Baton Rouge early from my holiday break because I’d been hired to play a special benefit orchestra gig backing up Luciano Pavarotti. When I returned to my apartment from one of those rehearsals in early January, there on my answering machine was message from a person I didn’t know, about a job I hadn’t applied to, at a university I’d never heard of. I had to get out my Rand-McNally to figure out where Kingsville, Texas even was! I returned Jim’s call, had a phone interview with the committee, and six days later, I’d stuffed whatever I could into my Toyota Corolla and drove to Kingsville, TX for a one-semester, visiting instructor job. I applied for the permanent position that spring, got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Who do I have to thank for this outcome? Many mentors, of course, but pivotal in this story is that faculty member at Kingsville who reached out to his mentor, the South Carolina clarinet/sax professor, and my South Carolina flute friend who ultimately referred Jim to me. A connection to a connection to a connection. In a supporting role is the professional flutist in Baton Rouge who chose me to play second flute with her for that amazing Pavarotti gig – I wouldn’t have been in Baton Rouge to take the Kingsville call, otherwise. The connections between these people, and then between them and me, created the perfect web to land me in my first Texas job. I tell this story to my students to illustrate that they must be mindful of all their professional and personal relationships with faculty and peers alike. You never know who might be the person who helps you get the next gig or the next job. It wasn’t my flute professor or my band director who referred me for my first academic job, although those people helped me immensely along the way. The music world is a small one, and the intersections can reach across many miles, myriad settings, and so many years. The more intersections, the more opportunities for connections.

But you all know that. I shared a little of my own story to remind you how important your daily contributions and interactions are. Your actions make a difference in your students’ and your colleagues’ lives every day. How many of you have had a former student tell you something that you said that they remember, that made a difference to them, that you don’t even remember saying? I know that’s certainly happened to me. That intersection, that crossing point, then the connection, between you and that student was memorable to them. It’s easy during the daily stressors of problem-solving, budget-juggling, faculty-wrangling, and student-soothing, to perhaps wonder if it’s worth it, if anyone appreciates how hard you’re working. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re making a difference every day. Those innumerable intersections that you’re creating will last far beyond your time in your current position.

This TAMS conference is an important intersection for all of us here. In January every year, we make sure that our paths converge so that we can renew old connections and forge new ones. The connections that I’ve gained through TAMS have been among the most helpful and powerful ones I’ve had during my time as an administrator. Learning from colleagues who are more experienced, hearing from others who share some of the same struggles, and experiencing the camaraderie with perhaps the only group of people who really “get” what we all deal with as music chairs and deans has been a precious gift for which I am forever grateful. I appreciate and acknowledge every one of you here today, and I hope that you will return home from this annual meeting feeling reenergized, knowing that you have friends and colleagues across the state with whom you can connect when you need them. Thank you for attending the conference this year, and I look forward to our paths intersecting again soon.

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