Clarinetist and CMPI mentor Steven Gooden wears many hats. He’s the Director of Bands at Proviso Math and Science Academy, IVM Band Director, Symphonic Band Conductor and Woodwind Department Chair at the Merit School of Music, Assistant Conductor of CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra, board member for Latitude 49, and Educational Consultant for the Grammy-winning chamber ensemble Third Coast Percussion. He’s also a new father with another child expected in May 2022.
When asked why he was interested in becoming a mentor for CMPI on top of everything else that he’s already doing, Gooden reflected, “It’s because of Vincent Rosse.”
Vincent Rosse was the guest conductor of Gooden’s District Honor Band in sixth grade. He was also Gooden’s first exposure to an African American conductor. “I remember him very well because of being able to relate to him. I felt connected seeing someone who looked like me up [on the podium],” Gooden recalled. “I was one of the few black students in a sea of white faces. Mr. Rosse was the first director who really noticed me and took the time to talk to me.”
While working with Mr. Rosse was an inspirational moment for Gooden, he never lacked motivation as a young musician. “I got into playing clarinet in fifth grade,” he recounted. “Everybody wanted to be in band, and there was a cute girl who signed up to play clarinet, so I chose the clarinet so I could sit near her.”
Gooden found the instrument challenging at first. “I was a small kid and my fingers didn’t fully cover the holes, so I would squeak all the time. My parents signed up for private lessons at the local music store with a guy named Kevin Tant, who started working with me on the fingering chart at the back of the clarinet book. I was so impressed with how much I learned in one lesson, so I started practicing,” he recalled.
Gooden continued to work hard, and was never one to be discouraged by a temporary setback. “My band director encouraged me to audition for All State and District Honor Band. I practiced hard for the audition and thought that I sounded just awesome,” Gooden laughed. “Clarinetists needed to score an 85 on the audition to pass the first round, and I got a 61. I practiced harder for the next audition and got an 84.5. The next year, I passed the audition with flying colors, got first chair in District Honor Band and earned a spot in All State.”
It was during the District Honor Band weekend that Gooden first met Vincent Rosse. He was also inspired by his high school band director, Kenneth Beard, whose career has served as a model for Gooden. “[Mr. Beard] drew on his strong background as a performer in his teaching, which is something I bring to my students as well. I coach students on how to produce sounds, and they naturally gravitate to sounds that are pleasant and rewarding. I believe that knowing how to make a bad sound can be as educational as knowing how to make a good sound. Starting that exploratory process younger, I believe students have more artistic freedom and don’t feel ‘stuck’ later. They don’t feel confined in a box,” Gooden explained.
As a CMPI mentor, Gooden brings tremendous energy, determination, and positivity to his work. It’s not accidental. “I teach students that their mentality influences their playing. Mentality is one of the most important things I teach – making sure students know how to overcome barriers, which develops their confidence,” he explained. “I don’t want students to be afraid to play in front of people. I want musicians focusing artistically on what details they need to communicate to the audience through a phrase instead of thinking that people only care about the mistakes they make.”
As a teacher, mentor and role model, Gooden is very cognizant of the way his influence can ripple through generations of music students. He spoke proudly about bringing one of his clarinet students to see the CYSO Symphony Orchestra’s recent concerts, where the concerto soloist and 3/5 of the clarinet section were students of his. “It feels very rewarding to be a Vincent Rosse or a Kenneth Beard in the music education world,” he stated. “There have been a lot of students in my 18 years of teaching who share great joy and appreciation for what they do, which keeps me going now, knowing that they can continue to inspire the generation after them. That’s the cycle that I’m trying to promote.”
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