Gordon Hicken started teaching at the Interlochen Arts Camp in 2015, making him one of our newest percussion faculty members. During the school year he teaches percussion at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Tell us about your first experience and impressions of the Interlochen Arts Camp.
Throughout my high school and collegiate musical studies, I always heard about Interlochen and that it was a special place. I saw posters on faculty doors and bulletin boards at school, and I even knew some people who studied there in the summers or during the school year. I never doubted the stories of these positive experiences at Interlochen, but once I set foot on campus last summer, I was amazed with how quickly I understood what everyone was talking about. I finally got Interlochen.
Having never been to the northern part of Michigan, I was instantly struck by the beauty of the Traverse City area and the campus itself. Coming from West Texas (at the time), I hadn't seen that many green trees and plants in almost an entire year! The facilities themselves were impressive, and the contrast of practice huts and cabins alongside state-of-the-art rehearsal and performance facilities set a unique stage for my introduction to this institution. It was clear that Interlochen has a reverence for the past, and it's easy to understand why. The thought of the musical giants that set foot on this campus is both daunting and inspiring. However, it was also clear that Interlochen has an eye towards the future of arts education, with buildings and facilities capable of engaging and developing 21st century artists.
To be honest, being at Interlochen was a very overwhelming experience at first. The “buzz” at the beginning of camp is energizing, and it is truly inspiring to be surrounded by students who are so extremely talented and driven by their passion—especially at their age! The faculty members and staff are equally enthusiastic, and it goes without saying that these people are incredibly gifted at what they do. With that being said, everyone shares the bond of being a member of the Interlochen family (which did help me feel a little less overwhelmed). Once immersed in the camp experience, it was clear that a “perfect storm” of people, location, and history makes Interlochen such an amazing place. I am incredibly thankful that I will be back to teach this summer!
What is your teaching philosophy with the Interlochen students?
My goal is to open students' percussive ears and minds while at Interlochen. Teaching the Intermediate age group gives me only three weeks to work with these students, so every interaction is significant. Each student arrives at Interlochen with different backgrounds, approaches, and experiences, and I want to combine all of those facets and use them as a jumping-off point to move forward technically and musically throughout camp. I'm always happy to show students brand new techniques that they may not have encountered in their previous studies, but I really enjoy showing students that there are multiple ways to approach familiar percussive ideas. Whether it is creating the same sounds with different techniques or utilizing the same technique to produce different sounds, I want my students to discover new and different ways to approach and play their instruments, as well as develop musical ideas and concepts that can be applied on all percussion instruments. It is far more important for students to understand how to produce great sounds and create musical lines in any setting, rather than blindly regurgitating only one technique “because my teacher said so!”
What was your favorite teaching moment last summer?
While I experienced many great moments in lessons, sectionals, and ensemble rehearsals, my favorite teaching moment occurred in the upstairs hallway outside the Percussion Studio. Some of the percussionists were sitting around working on practice pads, and as I walked by, someone asked a quick question about Stevens grip. I grabbed a pair of mallets and showed the student the technique they were asking about (probably moving to the interval of an octave) and the other students in the hallway almost immediately grabbed mallets to join in. The individualized question turned into a mini Stevens clinic in the hallway. Someone even ran into a practice room to grab the Stevens book so I could show them the corresponding pictures that went with the technique. What struck me about this experience was the genuine interest of the students and how eager they were to learn and absorb as much information as possible. I don't think there are many places where a group of young percussionists will instantaneously drop what they're doing to join in on an impromptu keyboard technique clinic, but I'm very glad that I have the opportunity to teach where that is a reality. I'm truly looking forward to many similar moments this summer!