Week 6 (TAKEOVER!!!): Music Ed. Degree? Check. Life Plans? Altered.

Here in Music Major Land, many of us may share the same major but all of us have different life plans and changes that shape how we head into the future. It's important as a community to know and learn from the paths of not only our predecessors and mentors but also our peers so that we continue to cultivate our unique community. Read the FIRST Blog Takeover that shows how things can still turn out great even when you deviate from your earliest dreams.

What are the key components of a conductor? What sort of special ingredients must come together in order to create the leadership and inspiration that a conductor must take on when they step onto the podium? As a young, female conductor who is “still growing into her shoes”, I certainly can’t say that I have all— or even a quarter— of the answers yet. However, I can attest to some of the critical, and invaluable moments that helped me realize that there was a transformation in my fundamental understanding of music with the first time that I held a baton. Simply put: It all started in a middle school band classroom, with clarinet in hand and the hopes of becoming more.

Like many beginning musicians in North Carolina, I started playing clarinet in the 6th grade, and while my passion for the clarinet was starting to blossom, I found myself sitting in towards the end of the section (out of a casual 30 or so…). From that moment on, I swore that I would never be embarrassed of my chair placement again. After that, I learned of the crazy, and actually beneficial thing called practicing— to this day I am still working on this aspect. I did move up in chair placement by the end of the school year, but to my horror (and unsuspecting musical needs) the next year came with a new obstacle. A new band director. I cannot go without mentioning that one of my greatest musical inspirations came in the form of a young, blonde recent Appalachian graduate student: Mary Speight. She was the first person who actually gave me a chance to realize how important music was to me. I asked her for an after school lesson, and on the evening of a school dance, with the unpleasant odor of middle schoolers still lingering in the band room while the loud booming of music echoed in the halls, I received my first clarinet lesson. That day, I went home to my parents and told them that I wanted nothing more than to be a professional clarinetist, and a band director.

Flash forward a couple of years, I was a high school student with a set plan in mind. I was going to UNC Greensboro, and I was going to get my Music Education degree and become a band director. Every moment of my life was centered around music, rehearsals, lessons, practicing, and the desire to be better. Every opportunity that I earned felt better than the last— from playing in musical pits, touring Europe, honor ensembles, and so much more. Then finally, I made the transition from high school band to a college program that valued music in the same way that I did. I found my people. I found my home. The only catch was that everything had changed, including my idea of my future that I’d had for the past five years. Becoming a band director was no longer my primary goal. Let me make very clear though that my continuation as a Music Education major was not as a “back-up” or “safety-net”, because becoming a conductor can only be attributed to the opportunities given to me through the Music Ed. program at UNCG.

If you’ve known me for the past couple of years, then you know that my most revolutionary, life-changing, mind blowing opportunity was through a Conducting II exam given to us by Dr. Mark Norman. Each of us from the class was to pick a piece of music from a list, and then conduct it with UNCG’s Symphonic band, or Wind Ensemble. Those of you who have played under Dr. Kevin Geraldi, or Dr. John Locke know that they hold their ensembles to extremely high standards, and none of us— none of us— were worthy to stand in front of these ensembles. But there I stood, in front of the Wind Ensemble, trembling as I flipped open to the March from Holst’s First Suite in E-flat. The downbeat was given, and suddenly the universe clicked into place. In that moment, I became a conductor. The final note resonated in the rehearsal room, and the room was already in thunderous applause. Stepping off of the podium I was swarmed with kind words, excitement, and inspiration. I received a handshake from Dr. Locke followed by, “It was an honor to watch.” Then, Dr. Geraldi pulled me to the side and said “This is it for you. I hope you know that this is it. This is what you’re supposed to do.” April 27th, 2017, my life changed because of the education program.

I’ve had many other successes because becoming an educator allowed me to become a conductor. Without student teaching, or giving a conducting recital I may never have taken the chance to act as Interim band director at East Rowan high school. There’s a little explanation to that though…When I graduated from UNCG in May of 2018, I watched a lot of my friends quickly get interviews, and then job offers as band directors, choral directors, orchestra directors— all of the things! My best friend, Jennifer Dewey, who easily had an interview each week for half of the summer was born to teach. The two of us have learned over the years to avoid comparison, but a little healthy competition has kept us in shape both physically and career wise. I thought I was a failure because she’d earned the job of her dreams (both a band director and an orchestra director, what?!) but I was still doomed to work at a damn grocery store. There was something in my heart that wouldn’t let me teach. I wasn’t ready to give up my playing chops, but I desperately needed to continue my path as a conductor. No way had I worked so hard just to become stagnant.

That summer, at UNCG’s Summer Music Camp, I was approached by Emily McNeil, the band director of East Rowan HS, who was currently on maternity leave. She asked me to act as the long-term sub for her program until she returned. I was hesitant, but I told her I would get back to her. That same night at the staff party of all places, I was then approached by Dr. Norman and Dr. Geraldi. You know a professor cares about you when they tell you to “sit down” because you’ve been “avoiding him”. Okay, so he was more observant than I thought? That night, they presented another option to me that would let me keep playing, and build up my conducting experience. The military. There was another moment where “the universe clicked into place”. I had a purpose again. The next day, I confirmed with Emily that I would sub for her.

There’s so much more that could be said about that night, and the next couple of months that followed. I’m currently working on going through the audition process of joining the Army, and teaching at East Rowan was incredible, but also confirmation that this is the path that was made for me. To sum up the incredibly lengthy bio of me, I want to emphasize how without my degree in Music Education, I wouldn’t be the musician, performer, conductor, leader, or person I am without the guidance of my professors and experiences in the classroom. No, I’m not using my degree in the same way that most people do, but I can confidently say that I am a force on the podium because of the tools given to be through every education course, and internship. So, this leads me back to the question of: what are the elements that make up a conductor? The desire to both lead and learn; the ability to listen, adapt, and inspire; and a passion for music. What are the elements that make up a Music Educator? The desire to both lead and learn; the ability to listen, adapt, and inspire; and a passion for music. Coincidence? I think not.

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