A Spotlight on Dr. Arris Golden

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Miami, FL


Although I have not yet met Dr. Golden in person, she strikes me as introspective and deeply devoted to her craft. This interview was requested by several readers.


Dr. Arris Golden, originally from Supply, North Carolina, is currently the Assistant Director of Bands and Associate Director of the Spartan Marching Band at Michigan State University. In this capacity, Dr. Golden teaches courses in conducting, marching band techniques, conducts the Spartan Brass ensemble and the Spartan Youth Wind Symphony, and is the coordinator of the MSU Performing Arts Camps. Golden holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Michigan State University and has led ensembles at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic and the North Carolina Music Educators Association convention. Her professional affiliations include the College Band Directors National Association, the National Band Association, and Sigma Alpha Iota.  

Reflecting back on her childhood, Dr. Golden shares that although she did not always plan on becoming a music educator, she has always been interested in music performance and is appreciative of her extremely supportive parents. Golden was enrolled in piano lessons beginning in second grade and then began studying saxophone in band classes in sixth grade. In late high school she switched back to the percussion section where she remained throughout her musical studies in college. At the beginning of her undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she had briefly considered a career in music but decided instead on becoming a lawyer and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1991. It was also during this period, however, that the university hired a new Director of Bands and new music education professor, Dr. Jim Hile and Dr. Nancy Whitaker, who both played a critical role in eventually changing Professor Golden’s mind back towards pursuing a career in music. “They were both so passionate about music and music education,” she shares, “that I and six other students who were in other majors moved to music education and became music teachers. All of us are still involved at some level” in the field. She decided to remain at UNC Chapel Hill and earned a certification in music education in 1996. Golden continues to rely on the lessons she learned from these two individuals saying, “they continue to be a major influence on how I function as a musician and teacher to this day.”  

After graduating, Golden began teaching at West Cary Middle School, where she remained for seven years (1996-2004), before briefly moving to Hawfields Middle School (2004-2006), and then accepting a position as the Director of Bands for the newly-opened Gravely Hills Middle School in Efland, North Carolina where she taught for the following eight years (2006-2014). During this period she earned her Master’s in Music Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2004), briefly served as the Director of Athletic Bands for Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC (2008-2009), and had the opportunity to perform with her middle school students at the North Carolina Music Educators Association annual convention (2010) and at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic (2012). She also facilitated the commissioning and premiere performances of multiple new works for band including Kitsune: The Fox Spirits by Brian Balmages (2009), The Machine Awakes* for young band and electronics by Steven Bryant (2012), Freight Train by Pierre LaPlante (2013), and The Cave Your Fear by Michael Markowski (2014). About her experience with the Gravely Hills MS program, Professor Golden shares that she believes “it was the time that [she] grew the most as a teacher and musician. The opportunity to participate in the opening of a new school and be part of establishing a new band program are things that [she] will always treasure. [She is] still in contact with many of [her] colleagues from that school district - it was such a rewarding experience to work with them! Finally, the students and parents of the Gravelly Hill program were remarkable! To be able to work together within a community to create opportunities for the students (working with guest clinicians, commissioning new works for band, etc.) was amazing and those students always rose to the occasion, no matter what it was. [She] thoroughly enjoyed [her] time there!”

            *I had the opportunity to see this work performed live a few years ago. It’s amazing!

In 2014, Professor Golden was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship from the Michigan State University College of Music and began earning a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Wind Conducting. She referred to her mentor, Dr. Kevin Sedatole as “not just an incredible teacher,” but also “a phenomenal person – very supportive and very giving of his expertise and his time.” In 2016, after earning her DMA, Dr. Golden returned to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a member of the conducting faculty and Assistant Director of the University Bands. In this position, she was responsible for teaching courses in music education as well as serving as the music director for the Marching Tar Heels and the women’s Basketball Pep Band, being the Principal conductor of the Symphony Band, and guest-conducting the Wind Ensemble. About this opportunity, Golden said that “it was a gift to go back home and work in the Department of Music” at her alma mater and that “the UNC Band program will always hold a special place in [her] life.”

In 2018, Professor Golden was ecstatic to accept her current position and return to Michigan State University. “It is an incredible community,” she said about the College of Music, “and [she] just could not turn down the opportunity to be [there] again.” Dr. Golden shared that her favorite parts of being a music educator include finding chances to positively affect her students, making new professional connections in the field, and making “music at the highest possible level.” When selecting repertoire for her ensembles, she aims to strike a balance between technical demand, opportunities for expression, and representation of different time periods and composers. When studying the scores to these works, she subscribes to MSU Director of Orchestras Kevin Noe’s philosophy; “it’s about noticing.” She first flips through the score and notices “the choices that a composer has made and then asks” herself a series of questions to explore why those particular choices might have been made. (Ex: Why does the melody at this point feature clarinets and flutes but later feature horns and clarinets?). “True music,” she said, “lies within the colors the composer has orchestrated” beyond the mechanical aspects like harmony or general form.

To young or aspiring educators, Dr. Golden advises finding a community in the form of an experienced mentor and a “tribe” of trusted colleagues and taking as many opportunities to grow as possible. “Don’t be afraid to fail!” She encourages, “Failures are always learning opportunities; you either learn how to do something or how not to do something.” She shared that she absolutely adores the people in her personal support group and that “they keep [her] motivated and moving forward through even the toughest of times.” She is also a proponent of getting involved in the greater music community (outside of one’s individual music program) and has served as a clinician for multiple camps and honor ensembles over the years. “Each and every one of them,” she said, “has helped [her] become a better teacher.” In the future, she plans to keep teaching at Michigan State University and to focus on continuing to grow as a teacher and musician. She also looks forward to remaining active as a clinician and conductor and continuing to work with her colleagues in ongoing projects related to mentoring and impacting the mindset in music education settings.


Follow Dr. Golden and the MSU Band Department Here


Book Suggestions from Dr. Golden:  

All works by Brené Brown

“Music: From Skill to Art” Bobby Adams 

“Casals and the Arts of Interpretation” David Blum 

“The Artistry of Teaching and Making Music” Richard Floyd 

“Rehearsing the Band, Volumes 1-3” John E. Williamson and Kenneth Neidig

“The Talent Code” Daniel Coyle

“The Culture Code” Daniel Coyle

“Mindset” Carol S. Dweck

“The Conductor as Leader” Ramona Wis

“The Art of Possibility” Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

“Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert 

“What to Listen for in the World” Bruce Adolphe 

“The Musician's Soul” James Jordan

“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” Susan Cain

“The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” Steven Pressfield 




Interview completed on July 9, 2019.

Michigan State University. (2018). Arris Golden. College of Music. Faculty Profile. Web. 8 July

2019. <https://www.music.msu.edu/faculty/profile/arris>