Balanced: Emily Maguire On Finding Equanimity In Music, Running, And Life

I suspect I was more excited than she was when Emily Maguire won the preliminaries of the 800-meter run at this year’s SUNYAC Indoor Track and Field Championships. As she puts it: “I’m going to go out there and do what I have to do to succeed. It’s going well at this point, but it’s not my whole life . . . I’m not here to do anything crazy; I do it (running) because I enjoy it.”

Her whole life, professionally, is about music education, so naturally that’s what most of our conversation was about:

Ryan Maloney: You strike me as somebody who really likes running, but not somebody who’s obsessed about running.

Emily Maguire: Yes. One hundred percent. That’s a good way to put it.

Maloney: Can you talk about that?

Maguire: People do get obsessed; it’s like an addiction. I mean, I do love it; part of the reason I’m here at Fredonia is because I wanted to be able to run. I’m going to go out there every day and do what I have to do to succeed. It’s going well at this point, but it’s not my whole life. I’m not fooling anyone or myself: I’m running Division III track at Fredonia. You know what I mean? I’m not here to do anything crazy; I do it because I enjoy it. I’m going to put my all into it because that’s what I want to do, and I want to leave here in two months knowing that I did what I could do. But what’s to obsess about? I’m going to graduate in two months, and I’ll run for fun, but it’s not my life.

Maloney: I remember asking you one day, “What do you want to get your 800 time down to?” I wanted this rousing proclamation from you: “I’m going to get a 2:10!” (laughs).

Maguire: I was like, “Yeah, I’ll get a 2:20 and it’ll be cool.” (laughs).

Maloney: Do you strike that same sort of balance with music too?

Maguire: Yes, which is not typical for the personality of a music major.

Maloney: You’ve told me that, “We’re all going to graduate with the same degree.”

Maguire: So you don’t need to kill yourself over it. But at the same time, I get it: To some people it’s a lot more important to be playing in the top ensembles and be the best in their studio, “studio” being other people who play the same instrument or are in the same voice group. That’s not what I’m here for; it’s just not my goal. I didn’t feel the need to stress over things like that. I put more of my stress and my hardest efforts into my education classes, because that’s why I’m here. My end goal isn’t to be the best clarinet player; it’s to be the best teacher I can be. I think we just prioritize differently.

Maloney: Then why would other music education majors stress so much, when you don’t seem to?

Maguire: Part of it is just about personality. Musicians tend to be perfectionists–they want everything done the way they want it; they want everything perfect all the time. It’s not that I don’t, but I know that life isn’t like that. If I’m constantly trying to be that way I won’t be happy. I’ll just be stressed.

Maloney: Have you always been good at “stress-management?”

Maguire: I’ve gotten better at it. In high school I was a little more anxious about things. Not that college isn’t busy–obviously it is–but in high school you’re in school all day, and you’re in at least one sport, and I feel like there’s more things going on that you’re trying to balance. And everything just seems more dramatic when you’re in high school, so that might have been part of it.

Maloney: You’re so on top of your stuff. Does that just come naturally to you?

Maguire: I have to be on top of my stuff; if I wasn’t I wouldn’t get anything done. I was at school all day; I’m here; I still have to run; I have to grab dinner, and then go back to rehearsal. If it wasn’t planned it wouldn’t get done. I have to be that way for my life to run efficiently.

Maloney: Running isn’t your life, and music isn’t your life, so what is your life?

Maguire: I don’t want it to come off that music isn’t my life–it is–but I would consider the teaching of music more my focus. Obviously that goes hand-in-hand with music, but I’m thinking of myself less as a performer and more about how to be a better teacher for my students.

Maloney: When did you know you wanted to teach music, and why is it so important for young people to learn music?

Maguire: I first thought about teaching music in middle school. I drifted away from it a bit, then came back to it my junior year of high school. That’s when I knew that that’s for sure what I wanted to do. I know a lot of places don’t think music is as important as STEM classes, but I think it is. Especially today, it’s a good outlet for kids. School has gotten so much more. . . more. Everything is “more”–there’s more work, more expectations, it’s harder to get into college, and I think music is a good escape for kids to learn something different and focus on something that’s not just sitting in a classroom, taking notes, staring at the board, or reading a textbook. And there’s lots of skills in music that you can use in other parts of your life. It’s not always the best kids in music who succeed–if you want to be there you’re going to do well in it. It’s just a good thing for students to be involved in.

Maloney: I felt that way in high school. I didn’t want to go anywhere with it, but all of my friends were in band.

Maguire: It’s often a happy environment. If you talk to any Music Ed. major in Mason Hall, they’ll tell you, “Part of the reason I wanted to teach music is because I had such a good relationship with my band director,” or, “I had such a good experience in band.” It’s just one of those things that’s positive for students.

Maloney: There are so few people on this campus who cross the bridge between music and athletics. Outside of the students who participate in both there aren’t many. Can you talk about being fully in both of those worlds?

Maguire: It’s been tricky at times. You just need to compartmentalize. I need to know when my music needs to take the front seat. And then, even though I’ll always put my education first, there are times when I can put my running first and music second. For all intents and purposes I was fully immersed in the music school–I have plenty of friends there–but at the same time, as an athlete, I always felt a little bit outside of that. It wasn’t in a bad way, because I tended to prefer it. More of my close friends come from running, and I think a lot of it comes down to the personality type from one group to another. Outside of my music classes and my small group of friends from Mason Hall, I was kind of detached from the music school. That’s where running is more the relaxing side. Not that it always is–I’m here to do the work and I’m not here to mess around–but it’s more an escape for me.

Maloney: I’m interested to know that the Music Education school is one of the top programs in the country. I didn’t know that. What do they do so well to be named a top program? Is part of it because they’re in New York?

Maguire: That might be part of it–a couple of the other schools are in New York, and New York is a top state for education in general–but I think a lot of it is the instruction in the Music Education Department. We have a lot of great instructors who are very experienced and have forward-looking ideas about the best ways to teach our students and progress our classrooms.

Maloney: What does that mean?

Maguire: Education as a whole, I feel, is changing as younger teachers are coming onto the scene. We talked a little about how I felt music is a good thing for students because kids are more and more stressed and anxious. You can look it up: Rates of that are skyrocketing all over the place, especially among teenagers.

Maloney: Which is why, to me, you seem great for that field. You’re very even-keeled about the whole thing.

Maguire: And that’s part of it. My professors are the same way as I am, but a lot of teachers will act as though their class is the only thing you have going on. Music is what I love, and that’s what I want to do, but on top of the music aspect I’ve always been interested in teaching in general because as a student I was involved in multiple things. Even in high school the music and athlete thing was tugging from both ends, and I feel like I can be very relatable to students who are involved in so many things. I’ll never make it seem like band is the only thing they have to do. I like that, that I think I’m understanding in that way. In the Music Education school they do a good job of teaching us how to work with our students in that way–make them feel comfortable and happy in the classroom and not overwhelmed.

Maloney: We were talking one time about a runner who you described as “naturally gifted.” I almost took that to mean that you didn’t see yourself as naturally gifted. Is that how you see yourself?

Maguire: Well, I’ve always been slightly above average: Better than middle of the pack, but not doing anything impressive. Ever since I’ve been here I was always in the top-half, but I was never out there scoring points. I wasn’t making or breaking anything for the team. Until recently I was only just doing enough to stay relevant. Not in a bad way: I’ve enjoyed being here and I’ve been progressing. I’m happy with what I’ve done here, but I definitely think it’s taken me putting in more time and work to get here. And it’s not all work: I do think I have some natural ability, and maybe it just took longer in me to come out, that this year is the year it finally switched on. It’s not that I don’t think I’m naturally talented, but for some people it’s more talent and not as much work, and I’m a little bit the opposite.

Maloney: Is that how you are as a musician, too?

Maguire: Yes. One hundred percent. No question. If you asked me a few years ago I would have said I have more talent, but after spending time at Fredonia in such a competitive environment, around people who will spend three or four hours-a-day in a practice room–I just didn’t have the time for that, and that was okay with me. I did what I did, but I didn’t go above and beyond in that way.

Maloney: I want to make sure I get these words right: You’re an above-average runner, and an above-average musician, but you have something that you’re way, way up in the 99th percentile in, and it’s something about responsibility, and on-top-of-it-ness, and realness, and kindness. I don’t even know what that word is, but whatever that is I’d take pride in being really good at it.

Maguire: Thank you. I do.

Maloney: Is there anything else you think is worth mentioning?

Maguire: You know, I’m not becoming a music teacher just because I want children to learn music. I want to teach my kids about responsibility, and life, and about being good people. You’re always going to have students who don’t have a lot of support at home, and I want to be that teacher that my students can go to because they know I’ll support them. They know I’ll have their best interests at heart. Teaching is about a lot more than just your subject.