When Suzanne Tirk enrolled as an undergraduate at Wisconsin's Lawrence University, she couldn't decide whether to pursue a career as a psychologist or a musician. For a year, the Montana native juggled both, but music ultimately prevailed.
It helped that Tirk had a solid musical foundation before college. Growing up in a musical home, she took clarinet lessons from her mother (a middle school band director) and often accompanied her father (a choral director at Montana State University) to rehearsals and concerts.
While still in high school, Tirk won a concerto competition that afforded her the opportunity to play Carl Maria von Weber's “Concertino” with three orchestras. When she was working on her doctorate, Tirk gained valuable teaching experience when she was hired to fill in for professors at four universities, all of whom were taking sabbatical leave.
Today, she maintains a large private clarinet studio at the University of Oklahoma. And while musical concerns are her first priority, working one-on-one with students gives her a chance to put her psychological training to good use as well.
“I like to use out-of-the-box approaches with my students,” Tirk said recently. “If a student has a problem with rhythm, we might walk down the hall and do kinesthetic things. For those who have great ears, I may try to minimize that and do something in a totally different way. I never stop trying to find different approaches.”
During the past decade, Tirk has traveled internationally and often combines recitals with master classes. The latter can be particularly challenging when there's a language barrier. On trips to China and Kazakhstan, Tirk had to rely on interpreters to get her musical suggestions across.
“In a pedagogy tutorial I took as an undergraduate, the instructor stressed the importance of teaching without speaking,” Tirk said. “As teachers, we really can talk too much. So I've learned to do a lot of gesturing, using facial expressions and modeling.
“When you're dealing with an interpreter, you never know what is being conveyed to the students. But it's great to see the light go on when someone else is trying to put across one of your ideas. Things like that have helped my teaching a lot.”
Tirk will no doubt get lots of feedback from her students when she presents a recital at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Catlett Music Center's Pitman Recital Hall, 500 W Boyd. She's chosen an eclectic program that includes Francis Poulenc's “Sonata for Clarinet,” Miguel Yuste's “Estudio Melodico,” Dana Wilson's “Liquid Ebony” and Alexander Arutiunian's “Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano.” In the latter, Tirk will be joined by colleagues Gregory Lee on violin and Jeongwon Ham on piano.
“Teaching is like a puzzle to me,” Tirk said. “It's about finding out how each student learns the best. Ultimately, you have to get them to learn how to teach themselves. It can be a challenge but it's always a fun challenge.”
HAVE YOU MET?
Clarinet, University of Oklahoma
in clarinet performance, Lawrence
University; Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts in clarinet performance, Michigan State University.
Scan this QR code to see related multimedia content.