Five Lessons from a Lifetime Invested in Music


Germán Gutiérrez conducting a symphony orchestra

On the heels of commencement season, this is a prime time to reflect on the wisdom imparted by speakers invited to offer their guidance and encouragement to graduates as they prepare for their next chapter. Many of these powerful life lessons are relevant to our students today.

Germán Gutiérrez, professor of orchestral studies and director of orchestras for the TCU School of Music, gave the Spring 2018 commencement address at Illinois State University School of Music, where he received his master’s of music in orchestral conducting. His inspiring remarks included valuable insights from his experiences in music and education, lessons that inspire any artist to become a thoughtful, compassionate leader who is a force for the greater good.

    1. On Paying it Forward
      My father always told me “when one door closes, go knock on another one.” My conservatory diploma initially meant that I could not formally enter graduate studies at Illinois State University School of Music, but I still pursued lessons with the professor with whom I had dreamed of studying, Dr. Roque Cordero, a Panamanian composer and conductor, though I could receive no university credit for my work with him. He opened his home and studio to me and asked for no money in return. One day, I asked him how I could ever pay him back for all his instruction and generosity. He said “you will pay me back by offering your help to your students.”What I learned from this great man was the real meaning of being a teacher and a mentor, and I feel that I am making those payments little by little with my enthusiasm for teaching and gratitude for the opportunities I have.
    2. On Preparation
      Cordero taught me one of the shortest, hardest and most important lessons I ever received in my life. I was supposed to conduct Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 for him – but I had barely started conducting before he stopped me. He asked “You are only looking at the strings, isn’t there a wind instrument in the beginning?” I replied that there was a horn playing with the strings – at which he said “please do not come to my class unprepared. It is a clarinet, not a horn.” The lesson lasted five minutes, but his strong reaction imparted a valuable lesson to me about preparation. I share this anecdote with my students here at TCU as I want them to understand that the best professor is the one that will demand the most from you.

 Learn more about Gutiérrez’s exceptional view of the power of music through the Lead On feature on his work.

    1. On the Value of Diversity in Education
      For many, college may be the first time you have opportunity to interact with people from diverse groups. For my wife and I, meeting people from all over the world on campus was like seeing the entire world without travelling anywhere. In my experience at ISU, working with students from all over the world, I discovered that we learn more from people who are different from us than we do from people who are similar to us. My interactions with the life-long friends I’ve made increased my curiosity to learn more about our world, and I became passionate about the value of diversity in education. Today, this passion gives me the opportunity to pay back what I received from my professors by giving my time and effort to the community.
    2. On the Life-Changing Power of Music
      My home country of Columbia is a clear example of how music can impact lives and change the course of society. In the last three decades, Colombia has suffered from violence generated by narcotics traffickers and guerrillas; criminal groups were recruiting 15 and 16-year-old children with promises of easy money.The most powerful and successful tool in response to this crisis was the creation of youth music programs across the country. Giving a child a musical instrument before they have access to a weapon can change the future and gives a child a special identity as a musician. Music can touch the soul of a child in such a powerful way that it helps break the cycle of poverty and violence.
    3. On Connection and Compassion
      The world is connected today like never before and we need to learn from and embrace people from other cultures.Remember how privileged we are as artists. We will always carry the arts as a golden key to transform human beings, to help societies in need and to open doors for peace, compassion and understanding.