Question & Answer with New Full-Time Music Professor Joshua Tompkins

Previously part time, Joshua Tompkins is now a full-time associate professor of music in the college of fine arts

Profile photo of associate music professor and pianist Josh Thompkins
Associate professor Joshua Tompkins was made a full-time professor of music in Fall 2019, but students at North Central already knew him from his deep involvement in in the college of fine arts: teaching music theory courses, accompanying on the piano at concerts, and playing on the stage during many events through the years.

Associate professor Joshua Tompkins, who holds a doctor of musical arts degree, has taught piano lessons and music theory at North Central since 2003 and recently accepted a full-time teaching position. He is one of two “new” full-time professors in the college of fine arts. Tompkins grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he was raised by his mother and grandmother. He graduated from Central High School and enrolled in North Central’s music program for two years before transferring to the University of Minnesota’s School of Music. There, he finished his undergrad, master’s and doctorate degrees in music performance. 

During his schooling, Tompkins began picking up gigs around the Twin Cities to support himself and pay for college. When he began teaching at North Central in 2003, Tompkin’s primary income still came from gigs.

Tompkins said he now lives in West St. Paul and is dating a woman whose adopted daughter is looking into college for next year. He doesn’t have time for pets, he said, but he enjoys spending time with his family, teaching students, and playing gigs

Why did you choose to teach at North Central?

“A fellow pianist, his name is Dr. Herb Johnson, who actually taught here in a director role under Larry [Bach, dean of the college of fine arts], asked if I would be interested in teaching at North Central. It’s competitive to get a job at a college so a few weeks later I thought, ‘This is being laid in my lap, I’d better take it.’ So I took it for part time. I started with teaching anyone—not just piano majors.”

What is your teaching style?

“My teaching style differs for each subject. I teach a different way for piano lessons than music theory. … Not a lot of people want to take [music] theory, but they have to take it, it’s a lot of work. What I try to do is work hard but have fun doing it. … [For individual lessons,] typically what I like to do is to let my students play. I’ll ask them what they liked or disliked about their performance, and then I’ll try to give some positive feedback and constructive criticism too.”

What is a favorite memory from your college years?

“Being in music, so many of us were practicing to be competitive: six to eight hours a day of practice. You’re spending a lot of time in the practice rooms, but then the relationships you build with other people who are doing the same thing as you is my favorite memory.”

Who is your hero?

“My Grandma. She died four years ago, but we talked every day and did crossword puzzles over the phone when we were long distance.”

Where is the best place you have ever traveled? 

Pollença, [on the island of Majorca], Spain. I went two years ago with Chorale. Beautiful alleyways, on the sea, lovely place.”

What is your favorite thing about Minneapolis?

“For the size of the city, I think it’s very cultural. Minneapolis has so much to offer: there’s art, there’s great food, great musicour orchestra here is phenomenal. [There is a lot of] culture within a relatively small city, compared to New York or L.A. I love that Minneapolis is a little more on the trendy side and then St. Paul is more of a ‘down home.’ Having both of those is so cool.”

What is a hobby you enjoy outside of teaching and campus life?

“I like racket sports. So … tennis, racquetball and pingpong. And of course, I love my motorcycle. It’s a Yamaha V-Star 1100—a ‘wannabe’ Harley.”

How did you become interested in teaching this subject?

“This is funny because I was not set out to be a teacher at all. I was going down the performance path. However, when Dr. Herb Johnson offered me the job and I saw my colleagues applying for any sort of teaching position they could get, I accepted.” 

This interview was edited for space and clarity.