Faculty on Writing

Professor: Dr. Steve Grugin           
Interviewed By:  Johanna Boyle
Department:  Music
Date:  October 1, 2004

After teaching at Northern Michigan University for eight years, Dr. Steve Grugin has taught many classes.  In the Music Department he instructs the students in the Marching and Symphonic Bands and is also in charge of several performance classes.  The performance classes are structured as individual lessons for both music majors and non music majors.  In the Music Education Department, Dr. Grugin teaches Low Brass classes, Marching Band Techniques, and Symphonic Band Practicum.  In addition to these courses, he also supervises music education majors as they do their student teaching.

These classes involve very little writing, but there is one course taught by Dr. Grugin in which he does assign regular writing; this class is Music History.  The papers written for this class tend to be short, two to three page essays on topics pertaining to music in a historical perspective.  Grugin stated that he used to assign only one or two term papers for this class, but decided to break them up into several smaller assignments to spread the work over a wider variety of topics.  He has never considered giving writing assignments to his marching or symphonic band students.

While grading the Music History papers, the things that Dr. Grugin looks for are organization, coherent paragraphs, and the logical sequence of introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Even more important to him are grammar and spelling.  This conversation launched a short story from Dr. Grugin’s childhood in which he won an English prize in highschool for having the best grammar.  As strict as he is about correct word usage and spelling, Dr. Grugin is becoming more lenient about the use of first person perspective in papers.  He says that depending on what the assignment is, students are free to use “I” in papers to discuss their own opinions. 

After years of grading papers, Dr. Grugin has noticed several trends in student writing.  The first of these is that as students get older, writing tends to improve.  Assignments received from Juniors and Seniors are of better quality than those written from Freshmen and Sophomores.  Although he did not elaborate on this, I expect the improvement comes from the students having more experience writing.  The second trend noticed is that as years go by, students enrolled at Northern are better writers than those from previous years.  I found it very comforting to hear that the writing capabilities of American students have improved as the years go by.

As for his own writing, Dr. Grugin feels that writing is something that he is accomplished at, but it does not come naturally to him.  Writing takes a great amount of effort for him, but Dr. Grugin is such a perfectionist that he insists upon doing things correctly.  The writings he typically does are promotional materials, such as letters to prospective students, and formal proposals to secure funding for the music programs, the band program in particular.  These writings need to be orderly and coherent as they are read by many professors and other professionals.  Overall, Dr. Grugin feels that writing is a very important skill, especially for communication.

Working primarily as a music instructor, Dr. Grugin was not familiar with the Writing Center.  Although he knew that there was a Writing Center on campus, he did not know the procedures used when working with students or anything about using the Writing Center at all.  After I explained the processes and methods of the Center, Dr. Grugin confessed that he had never advised students to use the services provided, but that is understandable as most of his classes do not directly involve writing.

Although he could not give any advice for the Writing Center itself, Dr. Grugin did however give some advice to students.  He said that the hardest thing when beginning to write something is choosing a topic.  I found this piece of advice similar to what we tell some students who come into the Writing Center having trouble starting their papers.  After choosing what to write about, the best thing to do is just write; just write things down and go back and fix it later.