by Charles Gavin

gavinThe retirement receptions have been held, the gold watch presented (or in my case, a much more thoughtful remembrance of a gift card to a local craft distillery), the last studio class and juries are done. You lock the studio for the last time and turn in the keys. Now what?

I have been asked to share some observations on the transition from what is likely the longest journey of our lives to the beginnings of the new journey. The decision to retire was made easier by the fact that my institution offered a generous “early separation” package; it was too good for me to turn down. While I am yet in the beginnings of the transition from forty-years in academia to retirement, I have found some of the routine to be quite familiar, but other aspects do require adjustment.

One “re-invention” can be defined by paraphrasing the lyrics of a song by the band Chicago: Time: Does anybody really care about time? Indeed time, or the sudden freedom from the constraints of a schedule, was initially a challenge. As a musician and professor, I have found life is very much schedule-driven: all the time devoted to hours of practicing and listening; rehearsals marked by the clock in the wings of the stage; lessons and classes dividing our lives into sixty-minute segments.

Suddenly, that schedule-driven lifestyle does not exist. This new freedom was a bit of a shock! No more daybreak individual practice routine, no more early morning group warm-up, the day no longer neatly contained in those hour boxes. What should I be doing? Is “recreational reading” before evening hours really allowed? Why did I feel like I was wasting time enjoying a morning walk with my dogs on a beautiful fall day?

It is certainly different for all; the struggle was genuine for me. It did take time to rid myself of guilt when I was not investing time in something that just weeks before would not have been acceptable in my previous time-driven life.

gavin dogMy solution was to intentionally allow myself to decompress and free myself from as many responsibilities as possible. Gradually, I have become more open to accepting that it is okay to to ignore the clock and guiltlessly enjoy the new life with far fewer responsibilities. What a revelation that was (and my blood pressure is almost normal again)!

Following decades of commitment to teaching, the question for me became does one suddenly stop cold turkey? Being involved with students keeps me engaged, and it provides a sense of purpose. I contacted a local high school before retirement to see if they would be interested in having me involved with their horn students. I now teach there one afternoon a week. Additionally, I have a small number of select private students. It is still exciting to see these young people suddenly “get it” and become more confident horn players and musicians. Those of you who have established outstanding careers teaching junior and senior high school students might find this unusual; moving from collegiate did take a bit of “re-inventing” my approach to teaching. That “time” issue strikes again. It was definitely an adjustment shifting gears from the collegiate hour-slot to half that time for a lesson. Adapting to a new pace is yet an evolving process.

Another adaptation I needed was a more “kind and gentle” approach to teaching. My new students are not enrolled in a college class for grade credit. I do not feel I can issue a stern warning and send the student to a practice room as I would have likely done with a college student for not being prepared! This is not to say I am not striving for the most each student can accomplish; it is simply a different pursuit of the same goal.

On to the horn. Well…maybe off of the horn! I do feel a bit guilty with this admission, but it is refreshing to relax the time (there is that theme again) devoted to practice. I no longer feel the need to keep the endurance needed for quintet or other performances. I still do an extensive daily routine, and I am enjoying the attempt to improve some things (like that often-ignored mid-low range) and having the opportunity to study new repertoire when the mood strikes!

Our profession, by necessity, is one of human contact. From conversations in the halls to rehearsals and lessons, we are surrounded by people with similar goals and ideals. It truly is culture shock going from this setting to one where you must proactively initiate contact with others. I suppose, in some bizarre way, that the Covid 19 shutdown of our universities served as a preparation for this.

Attending concerts has created a personal dilemma since I chose to remain in the same community where I had worked for so many decades. I truly want to hear and support my former students. On the other hand, I do not want my presence to hinder their bonding with the new professor. I consider myself fortunate in that my successor welcomes me to performances; however, I do my best to stay as far in the background as possible. It is also a different experience to attend faculty quintet performances—I was a founding member of both the brass and wind quintets. After thirty-seven years of being on stage with them, it was akin to an out-of-body experience. It did not take long to learn to “let go” and enjoy the music.

I certainly do not mean to infer these transition speedbumps cloud the freedom and joy that come with retirement. Just imagine, no more banal faculty meetings; no more annual faculty reports; no more NASM accreditation visits; no more assessment rubrics; and no more HR trainings! I am realizing that it is indeed acceptable to live life without the governance of a clock. My community has given me so much throughout my career; I now have abundant time to give back by working with local service organizations and charities.

I am still early in this re-invention of life. There are some music projects I would like to pursue on my own without the need to feel driven by an academic regimen. And, I can now invest time indulging my primary hobby…to become a better chef! Freedom to enjoy life on your terms, whatever those may be, is an amazing thing. You will love it!

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