On Becoming Your Students' Favorite Music Teacher

It’s a new year and everyone is back in action.  Rest and relaxation is over; back to the daily grind.  And what’s it all for? A few moments of music making each week, a concert or two, contests?  In exchange for the massive amount of energy it takes to plan lessons, choose music, deal with parents, discipline students, say the same thing to the same people one million times per week?  I ask again, what’s it all for? When the dust settles, what have I really accomplished? Does my investment mean anything, or am I just yelling into the wind?

I’ve felt like this, and you probably have too.  Yet, as I look back on those who taught me music in choir, I’m able to gain perspective on the ‘big picture’ without getting distracted by the challenges of the day-to-day routine.  I know now my choir directors struggled with the same issues we directors deal with today, but I didn’t know that then. Then, I was just a kid, thinking about the next funny thing I could say to throw the rehearsal into a laughing chaos.  It was helpful to me to list some of my favorite directors and why I loved them so much. I pray it’s helpful to you also as you begin a new season of teaching.

MRS. CARPENTER (elementary):  As a 3rd, 4th & 5th grader in Mrs. Carpenter’s music class, I had no thought of what it takes to assemble 40 kids, get them to make music, show them love and keep them from turning ‘Lord of the Flies’ on you.  I know now what it takes and all I can say is, “Thank you, Mrs. Carpenter for not murdering me and burying me in the desert.”  I know there were many times you at least entertained that thought.  What sticks out in my mind most to me about Mrs. Carpenter is that she loved me and she took the time to work with me to become a confident singer.  And when I say ‘confident singer’ I want to apologize to all the other kids in that choir (wherever they are) because I was WAYYYYY too confident during most performances.  Thank you, Mrs. Carpenter for helping me find my singing voice!

MRS. GROSS (middle school):  Mrs. Gross was one of my middle school choir directors (6th grade).  After my 6th grade year in choir with her, she transitioned into our school Guidance Counselor.  I’m not saying she quit teaching music because of me, but I’m also not saying that notion is impossible. 😊  I wrote my first composition in 6th grade, a tribute to the breakup of my 2-day romance with Ramelle Vincent.  If you’re out there, Ramelle, thanks for fueling my creativity. Somehow, I wrote the composition out on staff paper and brought it to Mrs. Gross, who made a big deal out of it.  She put me in touch with a local composer who encouraged me to have the song copyrighted. I still have the framed work and the $20 check my dad wrote to the copyright office. Thank you, Mrs. Gross for your great patience with me and for caring about every little thing I cared about.

RICHINSE (high school): I went to Baton Rouge Magnet High School and Mrs. Richinse was the choir director.  She was direct, gruff, cantankerous and unpredictable. But, she was also an excellent teacher who knew how to draw the very best from her students.  She rarely directed us in concerts and never conducted us in contests. The latter was always noted by contest judges and highly lauded. Mrs. Richinse gave me my first opportunity to conduct a choir.  She worked with me, teaching me standard patterns and basic communication skills for working with an ensemble. Mrs. Richinse had a lot on her plate; confined mostly to a wheelchair, and up to her neck in life-challenges.  However, amidst all her life issues, she showed love, care and interest as she taught me music theory, voice class, music theatre, conducting and composition. She even let me practice piano before school in her classroom. Thank you, Ms. Richinse, for giving me opportunities to fail and to thrive. 

DAVID BENZ (college): Dr. Benz was the Director of Choral Activities at Louisiana College, where I completed my undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance (1988).  He was soft-spoken, very tall (6’4”), surprisingly hilarious, and one of the most sensitive musicians I have ever known. There were times in choir rehearsals and performances when the only appropriate response to our music-making under his direction was tears.  Dr. Benz was also my conducting teacher, and nearly every warm and musical gesture in my conducting can be traced back to his teaching. Thank you, Dr. Benz, for teaching me a deep love for music-making and the passion that goes along with it.

I know this little exercise has you now thinking of your favorite choir directors and music teachers.  Keep this in mind, those under your leadership, regardless of age, likely do not know your personal struggles.  They don’t know the endless hours you spend in preparation. They do not know about parent-teacher conferences or late-night lesson planning.  What they DO know is whether or not you care about them and whether or not you will invest in their potential as people and future music educators.  Go forth and do good things! Love your choristers! They need you to inspire, challenge, shape and change them!


If you're interested in more advice for tackling the challenges of the choral year, check out our article "Advice for Running the Choral Marathon" here!

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