Ian Ferguson has deep roots in music. It’s something that’s always been a part of his life — from when he was in high school, teaching himself to play the piano and guitar, to his present career as director of programs at Colorado Springs Conservatory.
“Thomas Dawson [local resident and former music director for the Commodores] told me, ‘Some people choose music; other people, the music chooses them,’” he said. “I’ve always been one of the latter. I always knew this was what I was going to be doing.”
Ferguson oversees programming for the classes and events at the after-school music education academy. He also teaches voice, trumpet, piano and guitar.
“If there are kids in the building, I’m teaching,” he said.
Ferguson recently took time to talk to the Business Journal about his music, career path and his passion for teaching the Alexander Technique.
Are you from Colorado Springs?
Yes. I graduated from Wasson High School. I started at the Conservatory in 1999 and then moved to Portland [Oregon] to study the Alexander Technique after college. I went to the University of Northern Colorado and studied the trumpet.
Have you been playing music your whole life?
I started playing the trumpet in fourth grade, and then picked up the guitar and the piano. When I started at the conservatory, I was playing a little bit of jazz piano and doing some composing.
What did you learn at the conservatory that prepared you for your career?
One of my biggest strengths is my versatility. I play different instruments and different genres — trumpet, guitar, piano, I sing. Here, more than anywhere else, that was encouraged. I got to take lessons all under one roof, instead of going from teacher to teacher. I’ve learned from the expertise from all those different types of music and musicians. It’s been invaluable.
And then, there’s the intangible. I learned that anything is possible. In any particular situation, if you really go after it, you can make it happen. I learned that here.
I remember when I started here, I set a goal for myself to play a piece by Rachmaninoff. It was incredibly difficult, and was probably the first music mountain that I climbed. And I did it — I learned that if I put in the time, I could do it. It seemed impossible to begin with, but I put in the practice. It was my senior recital piece here at the conservatory.
So why did you leave for Portland?
I wanted to learn to teach the Alexander Technique. I took a three-year, 1,600-hour course in Portland to be able to teach it.
What is the Alexander Technique?
It can be hard to explain. It’s a thought process where you train your mind to bring unconscious habits up to the conscious level so you can change them and eliminate or prevent harmful or inefficient techniques.
For instance, when I was in college, I had to take a year off because my hands and arms were in so much pain — I had tendonitis. It was totally preventable, if I had understood that my unconscious habits were causing me pain. But when we learn to do something one way, we tend to keep doing those same things.
What do you think of Colorado Springs?
I think it’s an easy place to live. It’s very beautiful; it’s very livable. I live near downtown, so I hang out on North Tejon — Poor Richard’s, that area — in Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. And things are really growing and improving. Portland feels like a much bigger city than Colorado Springs; it’s more crowded. But here, it’s just easy. And who can complain about the beauty? My wife and I love to hike, and you can be in the mountains in minutes.
It’s kind of funny — in Portland, everyone was outraged they were building condos downtown. Here, they built Blue Dot Place and I was applauding. We need more of that downtown, and it really seems like it’s all coming together.
Working with Linda [Weise, Conservatory CEO], it’s hard not to get more involved in the community. You have to get on board. It’s her mission to lift up Colorado Springs, she’s very involved — and I want to follow her lead and get more involved. I’m in Leadership Pikes Peak this year, and I am really enjoying the experience. I want to use it to keep building this city.
Do your children play instruments? Does your wife?
My wife is a singer, and she teaches chorus. So we’re always singing in my house. I have this beautiful video of my son when he was about 4 months old. My wife is singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and he is clearly trying to join in. It sounded more like howling, but he was giving it a try.
He’s 4 years old now, and he loves the harmonica. He recently asked to take piano lessons, so we’ve started him there. I’m not really a ‘Tiger’ dad, so we let him take it at his own pace. I’ll play the chords on the guitar, and he’ll strum. He’ll be going to the Conservatory in the fall.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
In the beginning, you have to say yes. You have to do the work that needs to be done. You have to show people that you are willing to be a part of a team. That’s my experience. You won’t get a leadership role right away. You have to say yes, be available, put in the hard work.
I had a friend who worked at Car Toys all four years he was in college at Fort Collins. He never called in sick, not once. He never missed a day of work. When he graduated, he moved to the corporate office and then got hired by Amazon. Now, he’s started his own consulting firm. I always use him as my example. You have to do the hard work early on, and then you get rewarded. You have to show up and do the work on the bottom rung. If you do that — keep showing up, keep working — you’re better than the 80 percent who don’t do that.
I think this new generation has to overcome the reputation that they don’t want to work hard — they just want a leadership role and a lot of money. That might not be true, but they should know that is something they have to overcome in the workplace.
So what’s coming up for you at the conservatory?
We’ve changed the programming drastically. We have different classes, a more flexible schedule, there’s more thought into how to best educate the kids. For instance, we have an event called Studio Night, when the kids perform for each other. In the past, that would be very much segregated by age and ability. The new kids would be in one room, the most advanced kids in another. Now, we’ve mixed it up. We’ll have 10 teenagers, 10 kids from middle school and 10 elementary school kids. I know that I’ve learned from my students, so I firmly believe that the 17-year-olds have something to learn from the 7-year-olds.