Classical MPR's Teacher Feature highlights the lives and work of music teachers throughout Minnesota.
Hiawatha College Prep
What grade level(s) do you teach? What types of music classes do you teach?
I'm at Hiawatha College Prep, the middle school of Hiawatha Academies. I teach 5-6 general music, where we rock out on recorders, improv on bucket drums, and dabble in composition and music technology. I have a beginning band, 8th grade band, and jazz band and will soon be working after school with musicians at our new Hiawatha Collegiate High School.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN for Instrumental Music Education.
Who or what inspired you to become a music teacher?
My students ask me this all the time, and they never quite believe that I knew in fifth grade that I wanted to teach music. I was in the Colorado Children's Chorale, and I remember a specific evening rehearsal with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra when we kept working on a small detail over and over again until it just clicked. I loved every moment of it and had the realization that I could do this forever if I grew up to be the conductor on the other side. I've also been fortunate to work with many inspiring directors throughout the years who struck a powerful balance between demanding excellence and caring about each individual musician.
Where do you see music education fitting into the broader educational spectrum? How does it help or enhance other curricular areas?
I've always believed that music and the arts play as vital a role in education as the subjects that are now so heavily tested. It's devastating to watch schools and school boards cut arts funding and limit the subjects students can take. Participation can be expensive, and there can be added financial barriers for students who want to be in band but their families don't have the means to purchase an instrument, much less the reeds and valve oil.
The mission of Hiawatha Academies is to close the achievement gap, and they took a leap of faith when I pitched the idea that giving their students access to band could enhance the realization of their mission. I spent the first year here teaching general music while acquiring instruments through an ongoing instrument drive, donations, and DonorsChoose. This colossal dream required a lot of behind the scenes work, but it was all worth it when we had enough school-owned instruments the following year for my 80 students to be able to participate in band at no cost. Adding band programming for our students has made a tremendous impact on our school culture and given many students a new outlet and additional reasons to engage in school.
If you were to help program a day of music at Classical MPR, what would be a piece of music you'd play in the morning? What piece of music would you play in the evening? What is it about these pieces that make them a couple of your favorites?
With fall right around the corner, I'd have to pick Eric Whitacre's October. I play this for my general music classes every fall, and I can see the power it has on them. Even the most squirmy kids become still and truly listen. I sight-read it with students at a previous job, and once we made it to the end, you could have heard a pin drop. There's so many gentle yet deep layers portraying one of the most gorgeous times of year that would make for a wonderful start to an autumnal day.
Along the theme of modern wind band, I'd pick Yasuhide Ito's symphonic poem Gloriosa for the evening. Steeped in rich 17th century Japanese and religious history, it's one of those pieces that sticks with you long after it's over. There's a little of everything in it. Both traditional harmonies and modern wind band timbres. Hauntingly powerful Georgian chant and Japanese folk melodies and highly technical passages. It's not a light bedtime piece, but it's full of raw beauty and resolve that I think we could all use at the end of a long day.
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