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Get to Know the Faculty: Ryan Sullivan


Dr. Ryan Sullivan is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Arkansas State University. During his career, he has directed choirs with singers of all ages in academic, community and church settings.

Ryan Sullivan

Dr. Ryan Sullivan

Place of birth?
St. Louis, MO
My wife, Kristen, and a few animals. We recently got a very large puppy so that keeps us busy.
Why did you choose A-State?
The students and faculty were wonderfully enthusiastic during my interview process and who doesn’t want to be a part of that?! I also think A-State’s Music Department is primed for growth and in a position to provide a great educational experience for students.
What makes a good professor?
I think it’s the ability to ask great questions and guide students’ exploration.
Who was your favorite teacher (and why)?
Mr. Harig taught my high school world history class. His lectures revealed the inter-connectedness of the world, the global impact of our local decisions, and his concept maps on the chalkboard reminded me of the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” He did it all with a sense of humor and it kept us intrigued to hear the next part of the story.
What makes for a good student?
Someone who has the right combination of openness to change through new information but asks discerning questions before accepting it into their person.
What is one thing you always have on you...
my phone.
What’s the value of a university education?
I think the value is in learning to do something really well. In today’s economy there are many people who work in a field other than the one they studied in college. However, learning to set goals, think critically, work with others, and persevere in an academic setting that says a lot to future employers. That list may seem trite but it’s the basis for all future success. “… the end of study is to make you a good [human] and a useful citizen.” - President John Adams to his son John Quincy.
Your philosophy on education in seven words:
Advance understanding for greater quality of life
If you could teach another field, which one and why?
If not music, I think I’d teach history or law.
What is the one thing you wish you could teach everyone about your field?
I hear people so often say, “Oh, I didn’t inherit any musical ability.” The music-making process is accessible to everyone and anyone can have a way into it. Our culture has become obsessed with ‘natural talent’ which makes people afraid to join a choir or a band if they perceive that they’re not as good as others. Music is 99% skill-based and we are hardwired to learn it. Music belongs to everyone.
What is your most prized possession...
after my wedding ring, it’s our grand piano.
The last book I read for fun was...
I re-read T.H. White’s “Once and Future King.” The language is so imaginative and packed with wisdom.
My pet peeve is...
unnecessary reply-all e-mails.
What are you working on right now?
At the time I’m writing this, I am preparing the Dallas Symphony Chorus for a live concert experience with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the National Geographic film “Symphony for Our World.” It’s beautiful music and has to be timed exactly so that the sound and visual components line up correctly.
Before you retire I want to...
find balance.
In college, I was known for...
committing to more degrees and activities than necessary.
What music is playing in your car?
True confession: I listen to talk radio in the car. Because of my profession, music isn’t always the best decompressor. If I do listen to something, it’s probably classic rock (Boston, U2, Kansas, Aerosmith) or a Bach motet.
My favorite motion picture is...
any gut-wrenching drama like “War Horse” or “What Dreams May Come.” Also any heist film.
The television series I must TiVo...
“This Is Us” and before that it was “Parenthood.”
My favorite trip was...
in 2018. It was the first chance I had to travel internationally with my wife or a choir. We went to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg. I fell in love with that part of the world very unexpectedly and recommend it to anyone who’s Scando-curious.
If I could travel anywhere it would be...
I want to go to Iceland and experience the Blue Lagoon, repel into a volcano, hike the tundra, and eat new foods.
Four people I’d take to coffee...
Elon Musk, John Battiste, Angela Merkel, and John McCullough.
The best advice I ever received was...
time management is about making good choices - all the time.
What is the one thing I’ve learned I’d tell my college self...
take more risks.
My hobby is...
watching nature shows and spending time with my dog.
My passion is...
stirring people with music.
My favorite thing in my office is...
two posters of the Desiderata that hung in my mother’s college dorm room.
My pro sports team is...
the St. Louis Cardinals
My favorite meal is...
breakfast on a burger (egg, bacon, hashbrowns, etc.)
The one thing I will not eat is...
anything that I would have as a pet.
A perfect day is...
a rainy morning, a sleepy dog, snacks for lunch, breakfast for dinner, and a long walk with my wife.
What I like about Jonesboro is...
In my limited experience, I like that it has a pedestrian downtown and is easy to get across town. I just moved from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area where my commute could be 35 minutes or two and a half hours depending on traffic so I’m glad to escape that.
When I want to crush karaoke, my song is...
Karaoke crushes me.
Cats or dogs?
Dogs, though cats have grown on me.
E-book or hardback?
Hardback. I’m very tactile.
Beach or mountains?
In Puerto Vallarta you can have both!
Dinner or supper?
I like them both, but at different times in the day.
I wish I could...
still run long-distance competitively.
Only my friends know I...
You almost got me there. If told you, then my friends wouldn’t be the only ones who know.
My favorite saying is...
“Remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everybody else.” - Margaret Mead