Dr. Stephen Wolfinbarger doesn’t claim to have found the single formula for success, but his success stories can be found playing the trombone in the world’s top graduate music programs and professional orchestras.
Michigan’s Professor of the Year knows the success formula for each student is different. He knows the way he tailors a lesson or provides feedback makes all the difference for the students who become part of his trombone studio.
“Each student enters the program with diverse strengths and weaknesses,” Wolfinbarger says. “So the best teaching style is one that is unique to each student. Some students require a more demanding and rigorous approach and react best to hearing only critique. Others are motivated to work harder with liberal doses of positive reinforcement.”
Figuring out that balance, he says, is his primary concern. And he seems to have the knack for hitting the right note.
In the intensely competitive world of solo competition, Wolfinbarger’s students have been named winners in the International Trombone Association’s annual competitions for five of the past six years. They’ve also been finalists, alternates or honorable mention selections 23 times in 12 years, making the WMU Trombone Studio one of the most successful university trombone programs in the world.
His success as a teacher, inspirational mentor and counselor to his students was recognized in Washington, D.C. in November 2013 when he was named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. He also has been singled out by the International Trombone Association for his impact on the world of trombone performance.
“The most exciting part of teaching,” Wolfinbarger says, “is seeing the many successes of my students and knowing that I have not only opened new doors for them, but that I have been a positive influence on their lives and, through them, subsequent generations of students.”