Before Frank Kimlicko was a teacher, he was a professional musician.
Before he was a professional musician, he was a budding guitarist taught by influential educators who helped him reach his potential.
Now in his 48th year as a guitar and music theory professor at Tyler Junior College, Kimlicko has imparted that knowledge to thousands of students who started out just as he did — as a kid with raw talent and a desire for success, but very little clue as to how to achieve it.
Even today, he said he relies on the lessons he learned from his earliest teachers, New York-based session musician Bill Suyker and Spanish classical guitarist Pepe Romero.
“Much of what I tell my students comes from them,” he said. “After a while, you forget which lessons are your own and which came from your previous teachers, but that’s how it gets passed down through the generations.”
Students from all walks of life come through Kimlicko’s guitar studio and music classes, but they all have one thing in common:
“Everyone has the capacity to learn,” he said. “I feel like we’re partners in their education. It’s both of us together, helping them to excel. I help them, but they have to help themselves as well. If they do their part and I’m pushing with my part, we have great results.”
“Everyone has the capacity to learn. I feel like we’re partners in their education. It’s both of us together, helping them to excel." - Frank Kimlicko
Kimlicko takes a holistic approach to teaching, with students exposed not only to the mechanics of playing an instrument and reading notes on a page but also in the interpretive aspect of conveying a range of emotions.
“I learned from Pepe Romero that to interpret music, one should listen to great opera singers,” he said. “And to stretch it even further, we should listen to performers in mediums different from our own. So, if you’re a guitarist, you should listen to trumpet players or singers, to see what goes on there. Otherwise, interpretation can be kind of inbred and, as a result, may not encourage freedom or new ideas.”
He also offers practical advice on how to work as a freelance musician.
“I’ll get calls for students to perform, whether it’s for a TJC affair or a private party,” he said. “So, they need to understand how to behave at a job and what to wear but also things like making sure to go up and thank the person who hired them and how to negotiate and come to some agreement on the fee.”
Preparation is always key, he said, adding, “We have students who have done very well after leaving here.”
Case in point is Julianne Casey, a vocal performance major and one of Kimlicko’s music theory students, who graduated from TJC in 2016 and transferred to the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase Conservatory of Music.
Casey recently wrote a letter of recommendation for Kimlicko, who was nominated for — and ultimately won — TJC’s 2019 Mattie Alice Scroggin Baker Excellence in Teaching Award. He also won the award in 2001.
“Professor Kimlicko has made a tremendous positive impact on my life and my education, and continues to do so to this day,” she said in her letter. “Upon enrollment in the music program at Tyler Junior College, I knew virtually nothing about music theory or performance. Initially, I struggled as a student and performer, but his encouragement and enthusiasm in my success gave me the confidence and tools I needed to achieve my goals — and that I did.”
Kimlicko recently returned the letter-writing favor for Casey, who has graduated from SUNY Purchase and is now applying to graduate programs at The Juilliard School and Yale University.
“We’ve had some students go on to some great schools, but I had never written recommendation letters to Juilliard or Yale before,” he said. “That was a first for me.”
From a career standpoint, Kimlicko said there’s no end in sight.
“I don’t know what else what I would do,” he said. “I’m still having a grand time; and I feel very useful to the students, both in terms of the subject matter and of the world in general.
“Teaching music at TJC has worked out terrifically. I’ve always had great bosses who have always been supportive. The music faculty is well focused to the needs of the students. We really work as a team, we really respect and help each other, and it is all about the students.”
TJC President Dr. Juan E. Mejia said, “Professor Kimlicko is a highly respected leader, educator and musician; and I am honored to work with him. His students and colleagues continuously celebrate the positive impact he has on others, and the success stories by the many who have benefited from his expertise and dedication are endless.”