'Quality-Driven:' OSU's new director of the School of Music uses his past to pave way for the future

Jeffrey Loeffert

Jeffrey Loeffert stood by a desk in the music office of the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts, folders in hand, busily discussing ways to improve the music degree curriculum at Oklahoma State University.

He was only nine days into his career as the director of the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music.

To those who know him, it comes as no surprise to know Loeffert is already instilling change into the music school he has been a part of for almost 10 years, even completing projects before the “official” beginning of his position on July 1.

But this is not where his journey begins.

Beginnings

Loeffert began his musical journey where most students do: in public schools, in the sixth grade. Growing up and going to school in Cypress, Texas, Loeffert quickly “fell in love with the art” of music and his saxophone. By his junior year of high school, it would be his lifelong career.

“With instrumental music there are no shortcuts to doing it,” Loeffert said. “You take information and you apply it over a period of time and you absolutely get out of it what you put into it. 

“There is something very honest about that that I’ve always really enjoyed.”

Loeffert learned from an early age to use his experience gained in music to push him to new heights. 

“What you learn is that if you work hard and learn to be quality-driven with the music you are studying you can apply those traits to everything else that you do, Loeffert said. 

“Music has allowed me, and at least helped me become successful in other endeavors.”

High School is where Loeffert got his first teaching experience, giving private lessons to younger saxophonists. By the time he was 18-years old he was teaching other high schoolers at different schools.

“I remember I had to grow facial hair so I could look just a little bit older,” Loeffert said. “I was constantly getting stopped, even when I was out of high school, in the hallways by teachers asking for my hall pass. No one would believe I was an instructor.

“That actually kind of feels like my entire career, to be honest with you. Always one step ahead of what I’ve had to do.”

Teaching lessons helped Loeffert become not only a better teacher, but a better musician.

“Your students depend on you to give them great instruction, so they can’t be deficient based on your inadequacies,” Loeffert said. 

“I always worked really hard to make sure I was one step ahead. That’s what I remember early on is having to figure stuff out so I could teach it, if I didn’t learn it well myself then I couldn’t relay the information. It was especially important when the age difference was little.”

College experience

Loeffert completed his undergraduate degree at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., working hard to complete his studies with world-renowned saxophonist Fredrick Hempke. 

“I had pretty average talent and pretty average natural intelligence,” Loeffert said. “But I was always constantly inspired by the people I worked with and they helped me get better. 

“Every year felt I like if I worked and tried to keep up with these very smart and talented people I could sort of get into their group. I loved every minute of it and it’s something I still miss, and I knew that I would. I didn’t take it for granted. I really tried to take advantage of every opportunity that I had.”

After the completion of his undergraduate degree, Loeffert won a grant and fellowship, allowing him to enter two graduate degree programs concurrently: one at Michigan State University, the other in Paris, France. This meant, for at least one year, Loeffert was at one time studying at three different schools: Michigan State University, in its master’s program; and two French conservatories working towards a superior cycle and a perfect cycle degree.

“That was a tough thing,” Loeffert said. “One reason I was able to make that work was the French schooling starts so much later. So, at Michigan State, the schooling started in mid-August, but over (in France) it started in October. So I had this sort of two weeks there, two weeks in the U.S., and I would fly back and forth.

“I felt like I was living a double life. I slept on the dorm room floor because I couldn’t afford my own room, but I made it work. I’m actually really proud of what I was able to do at that time because it was a challenge, that’s for sure.”

The most “impactful” thing Loeffert gained from his French experience was being in a position where he was vulnerable for an extended period of time. Day-to-day language barriers and being on French Government Assistance gave him a degree of empathy for those in the U.S. who are dealing with what he went through in France.

“It was extremely important to be vulnerable,” Loeffert said. “In the United States we have very few real opportunities to experience vulnerability because we live a very privileged life here.

“The professor at one conservatory in another country had never seen a baritone saxophone in real life, yet any public school band program (in the U.S.) would have one. Things like that we take for granted.”

Loeffert completed his master’s degree in music performance and music theory, and his doctorate in performance at Michigan State. He has six degrees in total.

Career at OSU

Loeffert completed his five-year music program at Michigan State in four years, opening up the door for him to go straight from his doctorate to his professorship at OSU in 2010, teaching music theory and saxophone. 

“There’s a pretty strenuous application because OSU is a renowned school,” Loeffert said. “So it was competitive. I was really fortunate that the job description so narrowly defined my two research areas, saxophone and theory, a pretty weird combination (at the time). Less weird now, though.”

Loeffert said he loved the opportunity to teach both saxophone and music theory at OSU because it gave him the opportunity to work with different facets of the music program. When he started, he worked with every single freshman student who came through the OSU music program in music theory, and helped develop the saxophone studio at the same time. OSU never had a full-time saxophone professor before Loeffert.

Being quality-driven is what Loeffert tried to instill in his students through his individual saxophone lessons at OSU.

“You’re really trying to teach the person, not the subject,” Loeffert said. “Through teaching the person you learn how to teach the subject matter. What I mean by that is you’re teaching how to be quality-driven. It extends beyond just understanding techniques.”

Being quality-driven has helped Loeffert reach his latest destination.

Director of the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music

Stepping into his new role on July 1, Loeffert has huge plans for the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music at OSU. Being quality-driven remains the driving force behind his goals and aspirations for the school of music.

“Little-by-little every year we get a little bit better,” Loeffert said. “I’m really excited about some of the initiatives we plan to unveil over these next 2 years.

“From my perspective we should have a 100 percent graduation rate. That’s not unrealistic to me. And if we don’t I want to understand why, which is where my head is right now.”

Loeffert’s interest in administration began on the College of Arts and Science faculty council, working his way up from secretary to vice-chair to chair of the council in what he described as a “natural progression,” ending with him into this role as the director of the school of music.

“It’s a privilege to do the job,” Loeffert said. “We’ve got our challenges ahead, but I can’t think of a better opportunity to be a part of this faculty with the impending opening of the McKnight Center and the Greenwood (School of Music) building. We have great faculty and students and are poised to come together under great administration … the stars have aligned and we are poised to make the kinds of steps we want.”

Loeffert’s goal is to make sure students graduate with an “appreciating degree,” meaning an OSU degree means something more 10 years from now than it does now. To do this, growing the program and fostering relationships with OSU graduates, letting them know they can still come back to us to depend on their network are priorities for Loeffert.

Yet in the midst of all of this change, Loeffert remains grateful for the position he is in.

"What I get to do right now is the perfect combination of being able to teach and foster a love for the arts,” Loeffert said. “And at the same time be able to perform actively and engage in other creative endeavors. So it's an excellent combination. 

“I feel like the luckiest person in the world." 

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