Scotlight: Jeff Gershman

Features Editor Alex Nathanson ’24 sits down with new Director of Bands at Wooster, Jeff Gershman. Parts of this interview were cut due to space.

Tell me a little about yourself!

I’m Jeff Gershman and this is my first year of being Director of Bands here at the College of Wooster. For the last eight years I was in Columbus at Capitol University as the Director of Wind Ensembles down there, and before that I was at Indiana University.

How did you find Wooster?

My wife, Lisa Wong, is the Director of Choruses here and has been for 14 years, so I’ve been Wooster-adjacent since my Indiana days. I always knew about the campus and students, and have always really loved hanging out with the bright and insightful students here. My move to Capitol got me a little closer to Dr. Wong, but at some point, I decided it would be cool to live with my wife because we had never done that before in our 11 years of marriage. So, even though I was really happy at Capitol, I said “Ok, if the Wooster job opens, I’ll apply because it would be nice to be there,” and so I did. It’s been great – I get the chance to work with students and I get to see Lisa when I go home every night.

Now that your first year at Wooster is wrapping up, are there any moments that you think will stick with you?

Whenever you take a new job, you kind of know that for a couple of years everyone’s going to feel you out a little bit and it will take a while for people to invest, but this is the first time in 26 years and four positions where I’ve had students be welcoming so quickly. Normally it takes a little while to kind of give your heart away to a place, but because the students have been so welcoming to me, it’s been so much easier to open up and connect with them. I’ve never taught a senior class that I’ve gotten closer to than this one in such a quick amount of time, and I think that’s a testament to the kind of community that we have here. The other thing that’s really interesting is that, of the four schools I’ve taught at, I’ve never taught this many non-music majors. Most of the places I’ve worked at have been large music schools, so I wasn’t sure if my approach would work with people who were in band mostly for fun – not for a career. I was really tentative about how that was going to go, but I’ve had success in the past, so I was like “alright we’re gonna do this the way it’s been done and see if this is a good fit.” I think people have been pretty wonderful and open to it. So, lots of individual moments closing the first year, but that’s what I think I’ll take away the most – just how welcoming the community has been in a really authentic way. I’m really happy with the progress our band has made this year and much of that is thanks to how open the students have been.

What do you wake up for each morning?

You’re gonna hate it because it sounds super trite and cliché, but it’s the opportunity to teach you guys. What Wooster has taught me is – well, at my last job I was able to do much more difficult music because, again, lots of music majors – and when I got here I wasn’t sure if my love for teaching music was tied to the level of difficulty or if it was tied to teaching the students. What this place has taught me is that it has nothing to do with the music and it has everything to do with the people in front of me. So, what gets me up is that I get the opportunity after all these years to teach these remarkable Wooster students and get to know them while they are getting to know me. It’s never “Ugh I have to go to school today.” I authentically love the opportunity to teach, whether it be symphonic band or marching band, or even the academic classes, because people are so receptive and appreciative. Cliché-ism abounds: it never really feels like a job. I’m really lucky that my vocation is also my passion and that now extends to Wooster. We should all be this lucky to have a place of work that doesn’t feel like work.

What do you think your primary instrument says about you?

My tuba, yeah…I think it taught me how to lead a little bit when I was a player because even though we never have melody, we largely are the foundation, so I always tried to embrace that leadership, but it also gave me a lot of time to do nothing because tuba parts are terrible and so it was either like whole notes or a boring accompaniment or counting rests. So, what it allowed me to do was watch the conductor and see what they were doing and then I got excited trying to guess what the conductor was going to say and that got me excited about maybe being that person one day. The tuba gave me the opportunity to listen critically. I was never a great tuba player – I think I was a solid tuba player – but most people would not guess that I’m a tuba player. It’s funny, every time I do an honor band it comes up. I just did one in PA and the students were like, “What instrument do you play?” and no one ever says tuba first. Ever. It’s always like horn, maybe trumpet, sometimes percussion or maybe clarinet, but no one ever ever says tuba.

Anything you would like to say to students during this time of year?

In what is probably the most stressful time of the entire year, try (and I’ll do this myself) amongst all of the work and deadlines to appreciate the community around you and how special this place is because the seniors won’t have that again – they scatter to the world – and everyone who returns will lose it for a summer and has the chance to come back, but will eventually scatter as well. With all the deadlines and the stress, all the “oh my God I need to do this,” just take a deep breath and realize just how fortunate we all are to be a part of this and to not take that for granted. That’s what I would say at the end of the year. And come to our band concerts! If you’ve played any instruments in the past, it’s never too late to join us and find a cool community here, so even if you’ve taken a year or two off, come on back and we would love to have you.

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