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Emily McIvor and her clarinet professor at Arizona State, Dr. Robert Spring

By Emily McIvor

Who Are Your Heroes?

June 9th, 2024

Who are your heroes? Or maybe I should say, who are the people who have mentored you, inspired you, and given you the confidence and the skills to go after the things you want? Let me tell you about one of mine. 

In 2012, I moved to Tempe, Arizona to attend Arizona State and get a doctorate in music. My major teachers were two well-known clarinet players named Joshua Gardner and Robert Spring. Dr. Spring is well known and respected in the clarinet world because he’s a masterful performer, and a genuinely kind human being.  

I’d had enough contact with the professors to know I wanted to study with them (if you choose a degree in performance, you spend a lot of time practicing, studying repertoire, playing in ensembles and chamber groups, etc., and the person or persons who give you private lessons on your instrument each week throughout those studies are very important figures). As I dug into my studies at ASU, I began to see that I was learning a lot of non-musical stuff that was probably more important than the performance practice.  

Dr. Spring has an irreverent, determinedly optimistic view of life, and it’s contagious. His attitude was that something good was always down the road, and I found it refreshing. I’d had a couple of major teachers previously who were very different, and I found myself responding to the possibilities being presented to me instead of seeing them as obstacles or challenges. I was able to access my love for creating beautiful sounds and not be so caught up in how I was producing them—although we spent plenty of time mastering all the technique I needed.

I watched a middle-aged dude approach music, often brand-new, very avant-garde music, with the same nerves I felt, and yet also demonstrate a curiosity for the new experiences he would find within those lines. That curiosity consistently beat out any anxiety he felt, and his joy at figuring out how to create what the music asked for was a marvel for me. It gave me permission to once again enjoy what I was doing. And it encouraged my own curiosity, not only in exploring new pieces of music, but also in exploring other related subjects (pursuing a teaching assistantship in music history; I have a degree in public administration as well).  

Dr. Spring was a great model in terms of how to work with students, too. He was interested in our lives, without judging what we might be doing. He and Dr. Gardner team-taught a large, diverse studio, and I came away from my time at ASU hoping I could create a space half as welcoming for my own students. I graduated in 2015, the newly minted Dr. McIvor, and started using what I’d learned with Dr. Spring in everything I did afterward.

Fast forward a bit, and while I’m no longer teaching music students full-time, I still use what I learned at ASU every day as KVNO’s music director. Dr. Spring retired a few weeks ago after 40+ years as a music educator and I just wanted to say thank you. 

May we all carry forward the best of what our mentors share with us and do our best to share those gifts with others.