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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Tipps

Dr. James Tipps | Photo submitted by Dr. tipps | The Wright State Guardian

Dr. James Tipps has been teaching choir at Wright State University (WSU) for over 20 years, where he has learned a great deal about himself and others.

“Don’t be arrogant about what you do know. Be humble about what you don’t know,” said Tipps.

Tipps was hired by WSU in the fall of 1992 after being convinced by an esteemed music education professor that he should only apply to jobs he thought he would really like to take. WSU at the time was looking for a choral instructor with plenty of experience who was also a skilled pianist. 

“It was like they wrote the job description for me,” Tipps said. 

Rural beginnings 

Growing up in Lynchburg, Tenn., Tipps had been interested in music from a young age. 

“I drove my parents crazy when I was four or five because I wanted to learn how to play the piano,” he explained.  “When I was eight, I was playing the organ in church.” 

This upbringing did not allow him to be fully immersed in classical music, which he often teaches now at WSU. 

“I’d never really thought about becoming a music teacher until I got to college,” said Tipps.  

At this point in his life, he was majoring in math and computer science. However, a change of heart caused him to switch majors. Tipps holds degrees in music education from Tennessee Technological University, Georgia Southern University and Florida State University. He also studied at the British Kodaly Academy.   

A gained appreciation for the arts 

To Tipps, his college years were valuable in helping to solidify his adoration for the arts. 

“I had my first opera that I went to, and I was like ‘wow! Why didn’t somebody tell me it was like this?’ I’d always just heard opera made fun of,” said Tipps. 

Tipps holds a firm belief that music education is vital for everyone regardless of what career path they are following.  

“Music education is important to learn not just to be performing, but to be able to appreciate music of all kinds,” Tipps said. “I had no classical background until I was in college, but there were things that I didn’t come to appreciate even after getting a music education degree.” 

Some of these genres included jazz and country music, which Tipps did not learn to appreciate until later on in his life. 

“Years ago, I was a real snob, but coming to understand the expressive qualities that are in lots of music, like the Beatles. There’s lots of human emotion and aesthetics.  Aesthetics, of course, refers to the music. What is beautiful? And that there are many different kinds of music that have real significant aesthetic qualities that we as teachers need to be passing along to our students so that they’re able to work and understand that there’s not just beauty in one thing but there are lots of different kinds,” said Tipps. 

Touring with the Capella group 

Tipps has been teaching Men’s Chorale and University Chorus at WSU, and he has also been instructing the Kettering Children’s Choir group Capella. This group has traveled all over the world in recent years, performing in areas such as St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the American Cemetery at France’s Omaha Beach and the National Cathedral in D.C.  

This experience is always fascinating for him, as he enjoys meeting other tourists from around the world when Capella is touring. Utilizing home stays also allows the group to gain plenty of insight into what life is like in all of the different countries they visit. 

Tipps’ advice to music students 

When asked what advice he has for music students, Tipps had a simple response. 

“You need to look at what you want to be when you get through,” he explained. “Not just with passing classes, but to look at the overall end purpose.”   

He advises those students to prepare for what’s ahead in their chosen career path and to look for opportunities to gain experience. Finally, he recommends that they look over posted job descriptions and also consider their endgame.  

“Where do I want to be not just five years from now, with my first job, but where do I want to be in 15 or 20 years? What kind of job would I like to have and how can I get there?” said Tipps.