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Dr. Matthew Hagle: Nurturing Musical Growth + Career Advice

A Discussion with Pianist and MIC Faculty Member, Dr. Matthew Hagle

Matthew Hagle, MIC piano faculty

The journey of a musician is a path filled with challenges, plateaus, and moments of self-doubt. Whether it’s that pesky phrase that we play over and over and just can’t get, or the anxiety that grows as we debate a career in music, there are a lot of times where we just feel lost and need some guidance.

Matthew Hagle, a seasoned musician, and educator at the Music Institute of Chicago, has not only navigated this journey but has shared with us some valuable insights on how he guides his students and offers advice for those aspiring to pursue a career in music.

Fostering Musical Fluency in Education

Matthew Hagle's journey in music composition began at a young age, instilling him with a deep understanding of the language of music. This relationship with music informs his teaching, as he aims to make the complex concepts of music composition and theory feel as natural to his students as they do to him. He believes that knowledge should flow both from teacher to student and vice versa, embracing the unexpected insights that students may bring to the table:

“Having composition and theory training from such a young age is kind of like another language that I speak now. It's very natural to me, and I would like it to be to the students I'm teaching…I like to ask questions and think about the music that we're playing…A lot of times I will ask them specific questions, looking for a specific answer, and they give me three other answers that are really good, which I was not looking for, but are things that we should think of. I like doing things that way. I think it comes from the idea early on that a piece of music is like something you could get into and take apart.”

How to Overcome Challenges When Practicing 

Overcoming challenges and plateaus is a vital aspect of a musician's growth. By creating a safe space for students to make mistakes and learn, Matt Hagle helps them gain experience that will serve them well in their musical careers:

“I keep a high standard for what they do. I want them to do well, but they should know they are allowed and they don't always believe this either, but they're encouraged to make mistakes. Actually, I want them to make mistakes in front of me because maybe they don't want to make them in other situations. I saw somebody had a T-shirt once that said, you avoid mistakes through experience, you gain experience through making mistakes…I try not to make it like a test…they have so many tests in different parts of their life. They don't really need that from me…I try to project that this is something important that we're doing but that it's also enjoyable.”

Things to Consider When Pursuing a Music Career 

As musicians progress in their careers, challenges can lead to self-doubt and questioning the chosen path. Hagle's perspective on this is refreshing.

“I really didn't think I'd be teaching composition, but that has turned out to be a wonderful thing. It actually has helped other things like when I perform. I'm going to get to play this recital in a couple of weeks that, on the outside, looks more like what I thought a career would be like. But that's not really the way I see it now. Now, when I see people who have what I thought I wanted when I was twenty, I think I don't really want that. If you say, ‘I have to have this particular thing’, you might get it and be happy with it, but there's a lot of other feelings of happiness that you wouldn't get and might have liked as well.”

His experience has led him to understand that the traditional notions of a successful music career may not align with the true sources of happiness:

“Sometimes I think that people that end up as musicians, they do it mostly because they wouldn't or couldn't do anything else. That's a question. Do you see yourself doing something else? There are some people that I know that if tomorrow they woke up and there was no music in the world that they wouldn’t be able to take it. So maybe those people should make music and maybe they will be happy and successful. Maybe they'll be successful in terms of the jobs they get. Maybe they won't, but they'll have that.”

This devotion, Hagle believes, should guide your choices and ultimately lead to fulfillment, whether it aligns with conventional success or not.

Continuing Your Musical Path

Matthew Hagle's journey from a young musician to an experienced educator offers a valuable lesson in navigating the challenges of a music career. His teaching philosophy emphasizes the importance of making mistakes and embracing unconventional paths. His perspective on a music career shifts the focus from traditional success to personal fulfillment. It encourages us all to follow our passion and find happiness in the journey, reinforcing that music is not just a career but a lifelong calling.

As you've explored the wisdom Hagle shared, consider this: the music doesn't end with this blog post.

Experience Matthew Hagle's upcoming performance live and in person on November 4th at Nichols Concert Hall and let the music inspire your own journey! Get your tickets here

Dr. Matthew Hagle

Piano & Musicianship Faculty; Program Director, Musicianship