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Choral Directors of Note

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While some try to quantify or predict the success of an educational program by analyzing funding, class size, demographics and other statistics, the simple fact is that great classes, great departments, and great schools do not happen without great teachers. Through attributes like determination and passion, educators have the final authority to foster among students social skills, a sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness, and the rewards that follow hard work and concentration.

In this sixth annual Directors of Note report, Choral Director is proud to salute the following eleven educators, who have been nominated by their peers, students, and administration as exemplary models in the field of vocal music education. Ranging from California to Vermont, these educators are a few of the many who are deserving of special recognition for their efforts and achievements.

California
Jewel Panelli
Rosedale Union School District
Bakersfield
Total years teaching: 17
Years at current school: 17
Students in vocal Music program: 229

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
When my former students become music teachers

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I hope to instill in them that the best things in life take hard work over time… not everything takes four hours staring at a TV screen learning how to push four colored buttons just to “master” the “guitar.”

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
Understanding that it’s okay to program music that is age and ability appropriate so the students are successful and you aren’t frustrated. Never forget that for some kids, the only reason they come to school is choir class.

Illinois
Jeffrey D. Nesseth
Central High School
Burlington
Total years teaching: 15
Years at current school: 15
Students in vocal music program: 200

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
Having had the dream to someday expand my students’ global imaginations. In 2002, the CHS Chorale traveled to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. We had the opportunity to perform and foster many relationships throughout that experience. Since that initial voyage, we have made it a priority to travel overseas every two years. I love to see the excitement and joy in my students’ eyes.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I believe that everyone should be passionate about something. I try to live a truly authentic life providing the best example for my students. Through passion and pride, the CHS music department continues to motivate and inspire its students. The power of music transcends boundaries!

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
Do we ever really know the answer to this question? Is it the amount of trophies on the wall? Successful trips? Professional development opportunities? Surely, it is a combination of all of those, but I believe you need to surround yourself with outstanding colleagues and friends who continually inspire and challenge you to be your very best.

Maryland
Terry N. Eberhardt
Marriotts Ridge High School
Marriottsville
Total years teaching: 10
Years at current school: 6
Students in vocal music program: 130

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
I have proud moments each year at Marriotts Ridge High School. Each year my students achieve something new, something that makes them stand out from years past, and this makes me proud as a director and a mentor. One of the most amazing aspects of teaching the arts is being able to create something out of nothing over and over again. Each year we start with a new batch of students who come from every walk of school life, from jocks to scholars, and we all come together to produce shows, concerts, and just have a magical experience with performance. I use the word “magical” because being a performer is “magical.” Our students have the opportunity to experience something special each time they step out on stage to play an instrument, speak a line or sing a song. Many students say that their time in Marriotts Ridge High School Fine Arts department were some of the best experiences they had in high school. The students get infused with the performance and it’s that feeling that motivates them in and out of the classroom.

I had the distinct honor of representing Howard County as the 2008-2009 Teacher of the Year. It was thanks to all the wonderful moments that I shared with my students that this honor meant more to me than just a plaque or award. It was special because I knew that my students were the driving factor in me winning the award. After winning I was able to look at the letters that my students wrote to help me win that honor and I was greatly moved. Just knowing that they thought that highly of the job that I had done to nominate me was wonderful. There appear to be too many moments to narrow it down to just one.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I hope that my students are infused with music making. I want my teaching to inspire them to be the best that they can be in every aspect of life. I hope that the discipline, focus and excitement that I try to bring to everyday class will transfer into every aspect of their lives.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
The key to a successful career in music education or any profession is passion. I try to make sure that my students understand that with the right attitude and work ethic anything is possible. I want my students to feel as though anything less than their best is unacceptable. This is the founding principle for our music program at Marriotts Ridge High School.

Massachusetts
David Ranen
Amherst Regional Middle School
Amherst
Total years teaching: 32
Years at current school: 31
Students in vocal program: 205

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
I feel most grateful and privileged to have had the many opportunities to share with students in their joys and struggles in learning music over the past 30+ years.#149; Because of this, it seems impossible to capture this in one moment of time.
#149;
How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I always strive to treat each student with the respect that they deserve while#149;maintaining an environment of trust in the classroom.#149; By establishing clear boundaries and classroom expectations, students are equipped to take risks knowing that the environment is safe, caring, and encouraging.
#149;
What is the key to a successful career in music education?
The key is having a passion for students, with an earnest desire to see each student reach their own potential.#149; There must also be a passion for teaching, for making music come alive to students regardless of their age and ability.

Missouri
Mark Lawley
Willard High School
Willard
Total years teaching: 26
Years at current school: 17
Students in vocal music program: 236

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
Every Christmas the choirs adopt a family. Our goal is to bless the family, full to overflowing. It is inspiring to see the gifts roll in over and above what was requested. It is heart-warming to see my students giving to others, and this bears out one of our core values as choir: “If you want to be happy, do something for someone else!”

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I hope to be a good role model. I continually look for the best literature that will develop a fit technique in my singers. Finding repertoire with a meaningful text is important in training young adults. I also share books with my students that reflect living a purposeful life. The book I am currently reading and sharing with them is My Personal Best by John Wooden.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
Keep your focus on teaching music while loving the students. Some think of love as a Tiara and a Tutu. However love is often a helmet and shoulder pads. Loving students means encouraging them, but it also requires expecting the best from them. Select quality literature with a meaningful text and love the students while you are teaching them. In the front of my folder I keep the following quote by C.S. Lewis, which keeps me charging forward when I occasionally tire from caring:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, nor even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless, airless it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable#149; The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers#149; of love is Hell.” From The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Nebraska
David Sackschewsky
Grand Island Northwest High School
Grand Island
Total years teaching: 14
Years at current school: 14
Students in vocal music program: 310

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
There have been many “moments,” most of which have little to do with music and everything to do with teaching. Helping youths find their hidden talents is something I have most enjoyed. I feel we have yet to uncover the potential of our youth.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
By making them not only better musicians but better contributors to society: kind, well-mannered, and responsible young adults that care for themselves and others. To help achieve this goal, the vocal music department has implemented a character education program. Everyday a student is met and greeted by me with a hug, handshake, or high five, with the students being expected to meet and greet back. Each class then begins with a story that is either read or a song (with lyrics printed and passed out) being played and discussed. This has helped to create an environment of trust, which certainly is a must when you ask them to explore their hidden talents.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
Be curious! Always go to clinics, seminars, workshops, and anything that will increase your knowledge base. You must learn all you can so you can then give it all away. Your students and the profession deserve it!

Nevada
Kimberly Barclay Drusedum
Green Valley High School
Henderson
Total years teaching: 21 years
Years at current school: 20 years
Students in vocal music program: 295

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
My groups have performed at two national ACDA conventions (2005, 2009) and one regional convention (1998). Those were certainly proud and exhilarating moments for me, but I have to say that the proudest moments of my career so far are quite different. I am most proud when my former students choose to pursue a career in music education. I currently have 10 students who are teaching in public schools and making a difference in the lives of their students. I am also very proud when I see my current students reach beyond what is expected and insist on musicality and sensitivity first and foremost in every piece we discover together. It is at that point that I know I am doing my job.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
The motto that I follow is a quote from Eph Ehly: “Don’t teach music to people, teach people through music.” Students today are taking on more and more responsibilities at home and at school. They are bombarded by technology and often seek a “quick fix” with everything they do. I hope that my classroom can be a place where they discover the power of music, experience the true beauty of a phrase, celebrate and embrace differences, cherish sensitivity, have the opportunity to express themselves and learn how to work as a community with one common goal: to be a loving and responsible human being. When students can relate with the text and communicate it in rehearsal and performance, a whole new world opens up to them.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
First and foremost, you must love what you do. At the end of the day, no matter how tired you are or how rough the day was, you still need to love what you do. You will be a “Pied Piper” for your students and they will love singing for you. Be a lifelong learner, attend conventions, festivals and workshops, and never stop learning from your colleagues and your students. Relate with what your students are going through and share your life experiences with them let them know that you are a “real” person. Always follow through with the expectations you have for your students, as life lessons are learned in these situations. Have the patience of Job, the stamina of a teenager and the drive to keep your students on their toes. Always be prepared for rehearsal, and never waste your students’ time. Finally, have high (but reachable) expectations for yourself and your students and have a detailed plan on how to reach those goals.

New Mexico
Beth Borchert-Thomas
Mayfield High School
Las Cruces
Total years teaching: 25
Years at current school: 23
Students in vocal music program: 120

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
My proudest moment as a music educator was when I conducted the MHS Madrigal Singers as the 2010 New Mexico All-State Honor Choir. #149;I was proud because of the successful “journey” that we completed. #149;The students took on the responsibility of this honor with discipline, focus, excitement and energy; but most of all a commitment to artistic musicality and singing. Their enthusiasm and dedication allowed us to grow together, which hopefully will be an experience that we will all carry with us for along time. #149;

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I had a parent who recently wrote to me in a Christmas card, “The concerts you give with your students make us better people.” #149;I hope that is also what I do for students. #149;I don’t want to just make the audience better people. #149;I want that for my students as well. Through the hard work that takes place everyday in the classroom and in concerts, I want to make them better, happier, and more fulfilled young people. Not just better singers, but better and more productive citizens of society. I want them to love the art of singing because I truly believe that it will help them be happier and more fulfilled young people. #149;I also want them to take the discipline of choral singing and transfer the experiences of hard work and commitment into other aspects of their lives. #149;I want them to dare to dedicate themselves to the things they love, work hard, and then reap the rewards of their efforts.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
First and foremost, I think you have to love kids! #149;To be successful in any classroom, the teacher must be absolutely passionate about what they are teaching! #149;A music educator has to have a lot of energy and be willing to do many extra things in order to make their program successful. #149;A music educator must also be a team player and a great multi-tasker! #149;On any given day, a music educator might conduct the Faure Requiem, make enchiladas, wash cars, or go buy one of the kids a pair of concert black shoes. #149;You have to really love it!

New York
Sunshine Miller
Newfield Central School District
Newfield
Total years teaching: 12
Years at current school: 8
Students in vocal music program: 368

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
I have had many proud moments as an educator. One that had a profound effect on me as an educator was shared with an extraordinary student, whose name was Ethan Lillard. Ethan was a third grader and a valiant warrior against his childhood cancer. That year, I was teaching his class a Russian dance. Ethan loved music and was always a willing and active participant, even though he was wheelchair bound by third grade. As we learned the dance I could see how excited he was. He then indicated that he wouldn’t be able to participate due to the difficulty his wheelchair would bring. I laughed and said nonsense and spun him and ran with him and completed the dance with his classmates cheering us on. He looked at me when we were through and told me he loved me. Ethan’s sincerity touched me in a way that is indescribable and continues to profoundly affect me as a teacher. Ethan passed away in 2005, but his love of music lives on. Ethan’s spirit, determination, and love of music inspire me to this day and I couldn’t be more proud of my decision to be a music educator when I think of him.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I think the most important difference a teacher can make is providing each student with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Any child that can walk away from my music room with a love and appreciation for music is a success story. I often tell my students that I will be happy if they sing to their children, or help their children learn to read music someday, or can interact within their communities in musically and culturally rich ways. I don’t expect my students to major in music, but I do want them to have exposure to the beautiful legacy that the arts provide. It is an inheritance that is greater than any other they can receive. Passing this love of music from generation to generation is a major goal for me as music and the arts make a fundamental difference in our quality of life.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
The keys are tenacity and stamina. The work of music educators is joyful and fulfilling, but requires long hours, hard work, and a hearty spirit. Music educators face many challenges, especially in the face of educational reform, tight budgets, and a waning support for the arts. Now more than ever advocacy and voices from public music educators is needed to help keep the dream and promise of music in our schools alive.

Pennsylvania
Craig G. Cannon
Fox Chapel Area High School
Pittsburgh
Total years teaching: 36
Years at current school: 32
Students in vocal music program: 145

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
In the course of a 36-year career, “moments” can be significantly longer periods of time. My proudest moments as a choral director have been those in the last four years when an average 10-15 students from each of my classes of graduating seniors chose have continued singing in college. Most of these kids are not music majors. I am excited and proud when I realize that experiences students have with me are creating, within them, a desire to continue making music as they begin their adult life, and hopefully for a long time to come.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
I asked one of my former students (now a graduate student preparing for a career as an English teacher) if I had made a difference in her life, and others like her. I also asked that if she thought I had, would she please attempt to describe that difference. She responded with the comments below. Her words certainly express my hopes for making a difference in students’ lives.

The most significant gift that Mr. Cannon has given his students is teaching them that there is more to making beautiful music than getting the notes right. His teaching focuses on relating the story and the emotion of a piece of music to the audience. He inspires his students to express the music in a way that touches the souls of both the singers and the listeners. His obvious passion for his subject sets him apart from other teachers, and inspires his students to be passionate as well. He taught us that there is no point in adding lyrics to music unless they can add to the feelings and message of the composer. Likewise, there is no point in adding music to the text unless it enhances understanding of the author’s intended meaning for the poetry or prose. Singing for Mr. Cannon is about transcending the music and lyrics and creating something amazing.

His students may forget the songs they sang in Concert Choir or the parts that they had in the Spring Musical, but they will never forget the feeling of ensemble that comes with creating a beautiful piece of song. When we came together in the choir room, we learned that together we could create something magnificent, our sum greater than our individual parts. Though high school students are a diverse bunch, Mr. Cannon managed to unite us behind the common goal of singing well. It was hard work Mr. Cannon had high expectations and demanded our best effort but the end result was that we had created art together. Our experiences with Mr. Cannon taught us the value of striving for something difficult, as well as the power of collaborating. Because of these lessons, his students, whether or not they ever sing again, will make beautiful music for the rest of their lives.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
Love your arts: music and teaching. Work to become the best musician and teacher you can be. Passionately pursue the highest level of achievement within both of those arts everyday. Care about kids not just about their music making, but about their lives. Strive to improve their lives through making music together and the rest will take care of itself.

Vermont
Anne K Hamilton
North Country Union High School
Newport
Total years teaching: 27
Years at current school: 12
Students in vocal music program: 85

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
When my Select Choir performs an exquisite a cappella piece with great sensitivity as an ensemble, and then one of the singers lends a hand to a special needs student who needs help finding his place in the music. It is immensely gratifying to see the experienced musicians creating a culture within the large ensemble that makes the environment a safe and welcoming one for all.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?
My students can see that I love my work, and I love them. I hope that they all may find a career that they still find exciting and fulfilling after 27 years. I also encourage them also to seek out opportunities to continue their musical experiences beyond high school, whether in college or in the community.

What is the key to a successful career in music education?
1) Adaptability without compromising quality. Scheduling issues, budget cuts, societal changes and educational trends make our jobs more challenging, but in the end it is about you do in the classroom and your relationship with the students that define success. 2) Keeping connected with choral music through professional organizations and conferences has been very important to me as a teacher from a rural area. 3) Don’t underestimate what students can do, or what audiences will listen to. High quality literature is at the core of what we do. 4) A sense of humor!

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