Interview with Otis Music Coach Flint Dollar
By Rachel Solomon.
In this Coach Spotlight, Flint Dollar talked about his teaching experiences and how it relates to the Otis Music Camp. He has had a profound impact on the Otis Music Camp through his teaching of Music Theory and his very determined, energetic, and endearing personality. 2019 marks the return of Mr. Dollar to the camp since 2014 so we wanted to get an inside look into the makings of a beloved Macon teacher. We have missed him dearly and is enthusiastic about his return. Welcome back to Macon Flint Dollar! We hope he returns again to the Otis Music Camp family next year to teach another group of young and aspiring musicians.
Q: Can you give me an overview of your teaching career?
A: I started teaching, begrudgingly. I was an organist choir director in South Texas near Corpus Christi and got a phone call from a friend in Nashville who said there’s a teaching position at a boarding school in Sewanee, Tennessee and they wanted you to interview. And I said I don’t teach. And he said that I’m going to give your phone number anyways and you need to talk to see what’s going on. So, I had a phone interview and they flew me out from South Texas to Nashville and then onto Sewanee and ended up teaching a year at a boarding school in Sewanee, Tennessee and found a love of working with middle and high school students in that year. Then God had other plans so I ended up coming to Mercer University for a Masters degree in organ performance with the late Dr. Bob Paris and while working there with him I had the opportunity to take a church job in Macon where I met the middle school principal at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon. Mount de Sales hired me to teach middle school choir to start and then I moved into the band director position. So I was over the band program at Mount de Sales and the middle school music students. So I taught 6-12, mostly in the middle school up in the upper school band as well and I was there until 2014. Most recently, I completed a Masters in Music Education from Indiana State University, graduated there and taught a year of elementary school in Indiana and now and next year, I am in Harrisburg, Virginia teaching middle school choir again,Thank the Lord, at Kate Collins Middle School in Waynesboro, Virginia. So I’ve been all over the country. I’ve taught mostly middle school but a little bit of elementary. I’ve been a choir director for 20 years and a church musician for 25 years. So, it’s a long career of teaching, not just in the classroom but in the church as well.
Q: Why have you decided to return to mentor the campers this year?
A: There’s backstory in that question. In 2014, Karla Redding-Andrews contacted me to teach music theory for the camp and I said absolutely. Anything for Mrs. Karla. And when I left Macon later in 2014, my mental health was not stable. It was a rough transition for me personally, and it was not even a thought process to come back to Macon because I was not in a good place and I had so much hurt when I left. So even though Karla had asked me to come back, I couldn’t. I wanted to but I couldn’t. And then healing, you know time heals, and teaching at Kate Collins in Waynesboro. I had two students that I knew needed Karla. And I called Karla and I said I have two students that need you and they need the Otis Camp and she said you get them here and we’ll take care of everything else. And then she said if you come with them. And I said do you really want me back and she said I’ve been trying to get you back for five years, I want you back! And that’s how I came back. And I am so glad to be back. I said on channel 13, it was like coming back to family. I’ve seen so many students and people that have major fingerprints on my life and to be back at this camp is like coming home for a little bit. So, yeah I think this is going to be a long term thing.
Q: How has teaching changed or impacted your life? I know it’s a big question.
A: It is a big question. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a performer. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to perform. And I got into the performance world and I went, this is not what I wanted it to be. It was not, and I don’t know why it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I don’t know what I thought it would be but it wasn’t what I expecting. So, when I realized that the church work that I was doing was teaching, going into the classroom was a natural transition. To be in a formal classroom was a very natural, easy transition to make. The joy, excitement, recognition, when a student struggles with a concept and then they get it is better than anything I have ever experienced. I’ve performed literally all over the world and nothing, even performer’s high, does not, for me, does not match the feeling when a student gets it the first time or when they realize I actually understand this. And the light bulb turning on, clicking, and you watch it on their faces. That is everytime is a memorable experience for me. I would now, I would much rather be working with a choir and directing than performing solo because they’re showing what they can do and I helped them get there and to know that I’m making that impact. I had a student that came in to meet with me Saturday, she’s at Clark and wants to be cosmetic chemist , and she said, “Mr. Dollar, I don’t play my saxophone anymore.” And I said, “Why not?” And she said, “When you left, it hurt, and I tried to play and I just didn’t have it anymore. I didn’t have the passion anymore.” And I said, “Why would you let someone take your passion?” And she said, “You know, I don’t know. But my roommate had some music the other day, and I could still read it. I haven’t played my saxophone in four years and I could still read the music. I could still do it. I could still count it. I could still read the notation. And I couldn’t believe that after all that time, I hadn’t picked up a horn, and I could still read it. And I still knew what it sounds like. I could hear it in my head just by looking at it.” And that is the fingerprint that I left on her life. The fingerprint she left on my life is telling me that that fingerprint is there and that relationship. So that is what teaching is for me. I still have those fingerprints on people’s and student’s lives and that they’re still using the skills that I taught them, even if it’s not all the time, but that they’re still there. It’s incredible and humbling.
Q: Talking about fingerprints and having an impact on student’s lives, has there been a similar experience at the Otis Camp that you would like to talk about?
A: Yeah. In my first year at the Otis Camp in 2014, I brought a lot of what I do in my classroom, theory-wise, in the Otis Camp and that’s why Karla wanted me there, because of what I do in my classroom. And coming back this year, Saxton Keith said, “Mr. Flint, are we going to do that clap-beat-beat thing?” And I said, “You still remember that?” And he said, “Yeah. I can’t wait to do it again.” Five years ago. And it was a two week experience. And that he remembered that. And other coaches because none of the campers that were here five years ago are still here. But the other coaches remembering that and going through that. It’s a goofy game but it’s a teaching moment and to remember that meant a lot to me. I had that impact on that camper who is now on staff, a coach, is incredible.
Q: Last question, for any future campers that are coming to the Otis Redding Music Camp, what advice would give to them that would help them survive your Music Theory?
A: Be willing and open to new experiences. One of the things I encourage all my students to do is to broaden their musical horizons. What are you listening to on the regular basis? Do you keep it on the same shuffle or are you listening to new things? Do you just listen to one genre or are listening across the spectrum? The more, I said this to the campers this morning, we were actually getting into chord structure and harmonic progression things and theory this morning, and I said this morning, the more you put into your ears, the broader your palette is going to be. If you’re only listening to country, that’s your whole palette. If you’re listening to country and gospel, you’ve got two different colors there, but it’s only two colors. What is your musical palette? Broaden your horizons, step out of your comfort zone, even if you don’t “quote-on-quote” like that style, whatever you put in your ears is going to come out in your production. The more you put in, the broader your palette. The broader your experience. And that’s marketability. If your gig is right here: I can do country music, I can do classical, I can do jazz and that’s it? There’s all this out here that you could be doing and you could be making money in, but this is it. You’ve limited yourself. Broaden your scope. Good music is good music, it doesn’t matter what the genre is. Hard work is hard work, it doesn’t matter where you’re doing it. Broaden your scope. Open your mind to new experiences and new possibilities. And the opportunities are endless. And that’s music theory. What do you hear. Where does it go? The broader the scope, the easier it is.