Teaching in the Kindest Way Possible

Long-tenured band director at Pacific loves his students and program

     Michael Burch-Pesses is a professor and band director at Pacific University. He is beginning his 29th year of teaching at Pacific—and Burch-Pesses has his sights set on some exciting endeavors. He has students making their concert debuts, a new theme for the spring concert, and what he calls a “wildly talented group of musicians.” He calls this year’s concert band “the best group since coming back from Covid.” 

   But in spite of the long history at Pacific, Burch-Pesses took a hard left turn to arrive here—and that dramatic change has informed much of his career and teaching philosophy. Professor Burch-Pesses believes he may have the most unique journey to Pacific of anyone on campus. He laughs while sharing his story that began with the military. “I found out that the Navy had a program whereby you could audition for music, and if you passed the audition, you were guaranteed the music position. I went through boot camp just like everybody else and then spent nine years as an enlisted player. I went to some advanced schooling through the Navy and eventually got assigned to an administrative position. Next thing I knew, I got promoted to officer status and spent the next 23 years as an officer and conductor.” 

     For Burch-Pesses, Pacific offered more than just a teaching career; it provided a completely new, welcoming environment. The nurturing community and small college vibe harshly juxtaposed the very rigid and strict routine of Navy officer life. He explains how his students were the first ones to inspire his love for Pacific. “When I was here for my interview, a group of students took me out to lunch, and I thought they asked tougher questions than the search committee. They really grilled me! One student asked if my rehearsals were ‘boot camp style,’ and I thought that was a very perceptive question. I said, ‘No, you can’t beat good music out of your students; you have to draw it out of them.’ I guess that was the right answer… When I went home from my interview, I told my wife if Pacific offered me the job, I would take it because these are the kinds of students I want to teach. You can hardly call the military a nurturing environment. Here, I feel like my job is to meet every student where they happen to be, and it’s my job to teach them in the kindest way possible.”

     Professor Burch-Pesses has received the highest awards possible for a music professor from the Oregon Music Educators Association, the George Howard Citation of Musical Excellence, the S.S. Johnson Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Sudler Silver Scroll by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. When asked about reaching such heights, he praised Pacific for helping him to stay active in his field, stating, “I have to do some high stepping to keep up with my colleagues. They’re engaged in research, they’re fully engaged in their profession, they travel to give lectures and symposiums, and they’re so bright. I feel like I have to stay on my toes just to keep up. Fortunately, I still have the energy to do so.”

     Professor Burch-Pesses took every opportunity to brag about his peers, students, and Pacific’s program. When asked to give a final remark about both his time at Pacific and the coming year, he said, “I’m proud to be here, I’m proud to have been here, I’m proud of my students, and I’m proud of my colleagues.” — Rose Everingham


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