A Spotlight on Professor Craig Kirchhoff

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal


I had the pleasure of meeting with Professor Kirchhoff briefly at the 2019 TMEA convention in San Antonio, TX. I found him to be approachable, kind, and humorous.


Professor Craig Kirchhoff is currently the professor emeritus of conducting at the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts. He is an internationally recognized educator, conductor, and clinician. In addition to the University of Minnesota, Professor Kirchhoff has held positions with The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Washington State University, Ohio State University, the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, The American Composers Forum, the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, the Big Ten Band Directors Composition Commission Project, the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), and the American Bandmasters Association. He has been recognized with several honors including the Ohio State University Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award (1985) and the Ohio State University School of Music Distinguished Teaching Award (1983).   

Professor Kirchhoff knew from an early age that he wanted to pursue flute performance. He had initially decided to take music lessons because of his childhood friend, Rick Aaron, and ended up developing a lifelong friendship through the connection of music and discovering his future career path. As a young student, Professor Kirchhoff planned on “someday becoming a famous principal flutist somewhere,” but was later inspired by his band director, Michael Yindra, to study education instead. In 1971, Professor Kirchhoff received a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, followed by a Master of Music from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1976). From 1976 to 1977, he served as the Associate Director of Bands at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then accepted a Director of Bands position at Washington State University in 1977. In 1979, Professor Kirchhoff accepted the position as the Director of Bands at The Ohio State University. There, he is credited with the creation of the Wind Ensemble and the annual OSU High School Honor Band Weekend held in January.

Throughout his nearly fifty years of teaching, Professor Kirchhoff has guest-conducted in multiple countries and for several state honor ensembles. His most notable contribution, as a traveling director, is perhaps his work with the Tokyo Kosei Orchestra in Japan. Professor Kirchhoff explained that this position came to him through his association with the renowned conductor, Frederick Fennell, who he described as “almost a father and certainly a mentor” to him throughout his career. Fennell directed the orchestra from 1984 to 1996 and remained the ensemble’s Conductor Laureate until his recent death in 2004. These biannual visits, Kirchhoff shared, were definitely not for the weak-willed and sometimes included up to three school visits in the same day. Perhaps without intending to, Fennell and Kirchhoff set a new standard for the modern contemporary conductor with this type of international collaboration and the regular output of high quality recordings which are both emulated today by the field’s top directors. During his time as the Director of Bands at The Ohio State University, Professor Kirchhoff took his top ensemble to Japan on an 18-day immersive performance tour. Students had the opportunity to perform in five different cities, attend the Yamaha Music Camp, and stay with local families in their homes. Professor Kirchhoff shared that, of all the places he has traveled, Japan has easily been his favorite, citing their exceptionally beautiful concert halls and overwhelmingly large public support for the arts.  

To young educators, Professor Kirchhoff advises placing an emphasis on personal growth and staying focused on the music. “How the music feels, and how the students remember it,” he stated in one of his sessions at the 2019 TMEA convention in San Antonio, “is maybe the most important thing. It is our responsibility to allow students to experience music in an emotional way.” He also encouraged the directors in attendance to approach every rehearsal and clinic as an opportunity to make the world a more beautiful place saying, “You have no idea who you might inspire.” Professor Kirchhoff advised against trying to be perfect and reminded the attendees that “it’s the imperfections, the human side, that makes a real connection with the players.” To guide directors with the process of selecting music, Professor Kirchhoff employs what he refers to as “the 80-20 rule,” which states that the music should be challenging enough to consume about twenty percent of the ensemble’s time working on technique, but approachable enough that the remaining eighty percent of rehearsal time can be devoted to the creation of a musical experience. Above all else, he encourages educators to be passionate about what they do and to cherish the student connections that are made along the way.

Another common theme throughout Professor Kirchhoff’s presentations as the feature clinician for the 2019 Texas Music Educators Association in San Antonio, TX was the wisdom and impact of his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Jackson-Kirchhoff, who is also a highly regarded music educator and currently the Director of Bands for Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota. The Kirchhoffs have two adult sons, Christopher and Jon, who both studied musical instruments in school. Professor Kirchhoff is immensely proud of his boys and grateful for his wife who has always been by his side and inspires him daily. In the future, he hopes to continue working with teachers in continuing education and participating in conducting symposiums. Currently, he is devoting more of his time to teaching and lecturing and believes, as far as guest conducting is concerned, that it is perhaps “time for the younger musicians to step up” and take over.


Follow Professor Kirchhoff at the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts Website


Book or Recording Suggestions from Professor Kirchhoff:

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra

“The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites Complete,” J.S. Bach, performed by Yo-Yo Ma

“Dancing With the Gods” by Kent Nerburn

“Piano Pieces” by Russell Sherman

“Of Music and Music Making” by Bruno Walter



Interview on February 14, 2019 at the TMEA Convention in San Antonio, TX.

The Univeristy of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts. (2010). Craig J. Kirchhoff.


Ohio State University, School of Music. (2019). History. <https://music.osu.edu/bands/history>