It’s no surprise that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Director of University Bands, Craig Davis, is drawn to exploring new styles and ways to approach music. Born and raised a mere 70 miles from New Orleans, the city’s diverse soundscape of street musicians, brass bands, jazz, Afro-Cuban and Mardi Gras marching bands runs through his veins.
Davis knew he belonged when he first joined UTC’s campus last spring and found an eagerness among students to venture out of comfort zones and a willingness among faculty to break through boundaries.
“Tina Fey, in her book Bossypants, tells about a lesson she learned when starting improv at Second City in Chicago,” says Davis. “She calls it the ‘yes and’ principle. All improv comedy is created on the basis that anything is possible, the only thing you need is the other person in the scene to agree, and then you can build upon it. It’s a wonderful lesson in respecting what others have created, even when you don’t agree.
“The members of the UTC music faculty are avid believers in ‘yes and.’” Davis explains. “The first thing that struck me about my colleagues was that they have no fear. They are willing to think beyond tradition, try new things and, most importantly, fail. Innovation requires calculated risk and I was thrilled about the opportunity to be surrounded by a community of academics willing to take chances.”
Fairly new to campus, Davis hopes to build on momentum generated by looking to the future instead of dwelling in the past.
“I want to introduce new ways of thinking about music performance, writing, education and philosophy,” he says. “Things that have worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future. It’s not always about having the right answers, but asking the right questions and having the flexibility and artistic ingenuity to ask them and adapt to your discoveries.”
That hasn’t been a problem since joining the music faculty, he says.
“I love the warm nature of the students in the band program and their willingness to try new things. Bands are often so deeply rooted in traditions and routine that any departure from the well-worn path can be met with fear and skepticism.”
“But,” he adds, “this has not been my experience at UTC. The students are very open to new ideas, methods and revisiting what it is we should do as a band and as musicians, dancers, performers.”
Getting to know Davis a bit more:
What’s your favorite genre of music?
This will sound like such a cliché, but if it’s good then I love it. That being said, I tend to be drawn to musicians who incorporate various genres into their soundscape.
Do you have a particular mentor/teacher you like to channel as you work with students now?
The beautiful thing about education is that we are the sum of all of our mentors, and every day I have the honor of imparting my accumulated knowledge to the students at UTC. On any given day, there are at least 15 to 20 people from my past who are teaching my students and the cast changes daily.
As an educator, I cherry-pick approaches that I have learned in my past—both successes and failures—and use those to teach my students. Whether it’s one of the first things I learned in piano lessons from Mrs. Dugruise or something taught to me by Professor Junkin in my doctoral studies, these lessons and all of the ones learned in between, come together to shape the educator that I am.
The really neat thing is this: I was influenced by their teachers and how they chose to channel the education they had received and so on and so on. Every day we are educated by people we have never met and may never meet.
From your bio, you seem to be quite the traveler. Is there a favorite place you visited or maybe a Top Three?
I just returned from another round of travels, so the list has expanded a bit. This is really difficult for me, but I tend to rate my travel not on touristic opportunities but on the culture, the people and the food. THE FOOD. With that in mind, these are my Top 3: Tokyo, Japan; Barcelona, Spain; Seattle, Wash.
What aspects of the band program are you hoping to cultivate?
It is my hope that we grow the size of the organization because with increased membership comes increased viewpoints. A collegiate band takes on the image of the students who are in it, so the more we have, the more wonderfully diverse the identity becomes.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?