Williams Jeremy

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Jeremy Williams

Band Director
L.H. Marrero Middle School
Marrero, Louisiana

People living in and around New Orleans have a deep affinity for the area’s music and culture. They also have incredible resilience to deal with natural disasters like hurricanes. Jeremy Williams, the Band Director at L.H. Marrero Middle School, definitely has both.

When Hurricane Ida hit in August 2021, it completely decimated the school’s band room. Williams jumped into “full-on rebuild mode and was living on the phone and computer all day, seven days a week, trying to find avenues to bring in resources to help,” he says. 

Thanks to Williams’ relentless to drive, the Marrero band went from having “a totally non-usable room, non-usable instruments and non-usable storage to students making music and giving performances again,” he proudly proclaims. “While the band program is still in the rebuilding process, the progress that we have made has been tremendous. The young people in the band have been extremely patient and learned many life lessons during this time. Now, they come to rehearsals eager and ready to make music!”

And the music that Williams prepares for them always includes some standard New Orleans repertoire. “Music in New Orleans is deeply rooted, it is embedded into human culture,” he says. “When something like music is part of our lives and the way we live, it isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Williams tells his students, “we live here, so it is our responsibility to keep our music alive. It’s our job to see that the music lives on and sustains the next generation. I even joke that the heart of a true New Orleans musician naturally beats in 3-2 clave pattern!”

Another way that Williams has helped to support music-playing is through the creation of a youth jazz band called the Next Generation Jazz Band. He initially went out like a talent scout and looked for students for the band. “I went out to listen to kids play anywhere and everywhere,” Williams said. “Many of the kids in this jazz group attend public schools. Many are on free and reduced lunch programs. Many do not have the resources for private lessons. Some can’t attend school where they can get exposed to great opportunities.”

Williams simply looked for children who wanted to play. The band has students of all ages and ability levels from young kids to high school seniors. In the summer of 2022, Williams and the Next Generation Jazz Band recorded an 11-track album of New Orleans tunes. “This gave exposure to many kids who would never have had such an experience. It was an incredible amount of effort to coordinate this group, but it was well worth it,” he says. 

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White Greg

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Greg White

Director of Bands
Ronald Reagan High School
San Antonio, Texas

Focus is the key to the success of the Ronald Reagan High School band program. Director of Bands Greg White says that keeping students focused comes primarily from the preparation he and his team put into rehearsals. “We hold that time sacred and never want to waste even a second,” he explains. “That means getting information from all the stakeholders in our program and creating a plan that fits all our needs. That plan then must be communicated to and then executed by our amazing team of teachers.”

This same focus and attention to detail goes into creating innovative shows. Last year’s “In Plain Sight” explored the idea of seen vs. unseen, misdirection or subtlety. “The music was based on the incredibly well-known ‘Adagio for Strings,’ but it was adapted in ways that were unique and unpredictable,” White says. “Additionally, we used visual effects such as costuming to create misdirection that drew the audience’s focus in ways that were surprising!”

White prefers to limit the use of props on the field because “we believe the biggest assets we have are our students! The more we can feature our incredible performers and their skills, the better,” he says. “We also believe that this gives us a unique ‘look’ that is clean and flexible to fit our needs.”

The students at Reagan have a variety of musical experiences available to them. The program includes a marching band, four concert bands, two full orchestras, steel pan ensemble, musical pit orchestra, jazz band, low brass ensemble, saxophone choir, chamber music program and three winterguards.

White is open to adding new groups, too. When student leaders approached him about forming a sax quartet, he worked with them to make it happen. The ensemble, called Quid Nunc, has grown over the years with meaningful performances and success in the competition realm.  “My goal for the group is to spread the awareness of and participation in high-level chamber music,” White says. “Quid Nunc has toured across Texas and the Midwest throughout the years giving outreach concerts to students ranging from kindergarten through college.”

Outside of Reagan, White is involved with SASi, a group dedicated to developing student leaders in all areas, including student councils, athletic teams and marching bands.  “I love having the opportunity to impact a large number of students — and directors! — throughout the country in my work with SASi,” he exclaims. “I strongly believe in the lessons and skills taught through the SASi curriculum and how they shape young leaders to be the best versions of themselves in order to serve the programs they work with.”

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Wigglesworth Tyler

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Tyler Wigglesworth

Choir Director, Performing Arts Academy Coordinator, Vocal Music Director
West Covina High School
West Covina, California

When charged with starting the West Covina High School Performing Arts Academy, Choir Director Tyler Wigglesworth jumped right in. Together with the theater, band and dance teachers, Wigglesworth’s goal was to provide high-quality performing arts education while still giving students a comprehensive high school experience.

“We require each student who wants to join the Performing Arts Academy to fill out an application and then audition,” he explains. “If selected, the student will declare an emphasis, called a pillar, which defines the focus of their performing arts education for the next four years. The four pillars offered are dance, instrumental music, theater (both acting and technical) and vocal music.”

The director who oversees that specific pillar works with the student, as well as their academic counselor, to provide a four-year academic plan that encompasses all the Performing Arts Academy, high school and college-entry requirements.

In addition to directing the choral department, coordinating the Performing Arts Academy and running its vocal music pillar, Wigglesworth is also the music director for the school’s musicals. “What excites me the most about my music program is simply the diversity of opportunities that are provided for each student to refine their craft as they find their voice at West Covina High School,” he says.

Encouraging students to find their voice is core to Wigglesworth’s teaching philosophy. “I truly believe that music and other performing arts disciplines are catalysts for students to unlock incredible levels of excellence as they work together toward a high level of performance,” he says. “However, we have to celebrate that these ensembles are made up of individuals who have unique backgrounds that they bring to the art of music-making. By simply participating, students are expressing their individuality, and it is the combination of all these individual voices that creates musical magic.”

Wigglesworth also finds unique and exciting performance opportunities for his students. “A couple years ago, I took two of my choirs to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City,” he says excitedly. “Not only was that an incredible experience, but through that process we had the opportunity to bring to life a beautiful work that was written for our group in collaboration with composers Melanie Penn and AJ Harbison. It was such a thrill to be able to be a part of new music being written.”

In 2023, the school’s choir will be premiering another new work — a song co-commissioned with Los-Angeles-based singer and composer Joel Balzun.

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Tovar Jabari

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Jabari Tovar

Instrumental Music Teacher,
Percussion Specialist
Salem Public Schools
Salem, Massachusetts

Developing a culturally responsive curriculum is one of the tenets of Jabari Tovar’s teaching philosophy. The instrumental music teacher and percussion specialist at Salem Public Schools in Massachusetts says, “I’m fortunate to work in a community as diverse as Salem. Our community is composed of families from many different backgrounds, and a large portion are from the Dominican Republic, so I’ve incorporated traditional songs from there when selecting repertoire.”

Recently, Tovar arranged the Latin American folk song “Pin Pon es un Muñeco” for his 4th-grade students, and last year, he taught a unit on Reggaeton to his 6th graders, focusing on the style’s roots from Jamaica and Panama (and how it migrated to the Dominican Republic), the importance of Dembow rhythm, and how students can perform Reggaeton patterns on their band instruments.

Because the core of Tovar’s job is working with beginner percussion students, “any repertoire must be at an appropriate level of difficulty for them but still challenge them,” he explains. “I do a lot of research and usually start by looking for folk songs or children’s songs that are melodically and rhythmically appropriate. I spend a lot of time on YouTube and Google finding pieces that fit my students’ needs.”

Tovar also reaches out to some of his Dominican-American faculty colleagues for guidance on repertoire. “Hearing the thoughts and perspectives directly from people who come from different cultures is invaluable,” he exclaims.

As a teacher, Tovar is all about the “small” wins. To reach those wins, he regularly pushes his students and himself. In 2019, he shifted the high school concert percussion ensemble to a marching one. For the first season, the group was a “standstill” ensemble. Marching elements were added the following year. “Shifting from a concert to a marching group has come with its own set of unique challenges, but it has been an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “I’m looking forward to further growing and developing the program for years to come!”

Tovar himself is an alumnus of the Salem music department, and he’s thankful to give back to the community that has given him so much.  One way he shows this gratitude is to address the unseen obstacles faced by students and families that might prevent students from participating in the music program. “I try to look at everything we do from the perspective of students and parents,” Tovar says. “I consider everything from noise constraints when practicing at home, to making sure students can transport instruments to and from school depending on their mode of transportation. If there’s anything I can do to make the non-performance aspects of their musical lives easier, I’ll do it.”

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Thorpe Theodore III

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Theodore Thorpe III

Director of Choral Activities
Alexandria City High School
Alexandria, Virginia

Described as “inspiring students to soar” by the Alexandria Times, Theodore Thorpe III, the Director of Choral Activities at Alexandria City High School in Virginia, is known to empower students by instilling discipline and work ethic. According to parents, Thorpe allows students to struggle instead of always coming in and fixing everything, which builds essential musical skills as well as tangible and transferrable life skills that ultimately prepares students to be contributors to society.

When Thorpe arrived at Alexandria 13 years ago, the choral program had 30 students. “I needed to hit the ground running to recruit,” he admits. “From creating barbershop quartet jingles that students would perform over the loudspeaker during announcements, to walking the hallways and listening for low-speaking voices for potential basses, to going to basketball and football games, I did it all.”

Thorpe says the biggest recruitment tool was the choir’s first few performances, which gave the middle schoolers a program to look forward to joining. In two years, the choir grew to 100 students. “Ultimately, the students sold the program much better than I could have,” he says.

His choir now has a long list of impressive performances, including an invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in September 2016, being the showcase choir at the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference in November 2017, and the televised performances at the Kennedy Center Honors and Christmas in Washington.

In addition to his roles a conductor, educator and musical director, Thorpe is also a vocalist, composer, arranger and pianist, which he says helps him in both the rehearsal and performance space. “I don’t have an accompanist for my classes, so I’m pretty much playing while teaching class,” he says. “I’m consistently teaching vocal technique within the ensemble setting, and my background in composition and arranging allow me to make musical choices that fit my ensemble, especially when it comes to melody, countermelody, harmony and the division of that harmony for balance and blend purposes.”

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Sexton Timothy S. Dr.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Dr. Timothy S. Sexton

Associate Director of Bands
Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts
Tarpon Springs, Florida

Potential and progress are critical, not perfection. That’s the message that Dr. Timothy S. Sexton, the Associate Director of Bands at the Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts in Florida, wants his students to embrace. “I am constantly looking for ways to show our students that I value them as people first and musicians second,” Sexton explains. “Sincere, daily conversations with our students has helped to make more meaningful connections with them. I remind our students that we never measure perfection, but rather potential and progress!”

When developing curricula, Sexton immediately begins with the end in mind, “so we address our most difficult segments of material first,” Sexton explains. “We joyfully try to cultivate deliberate practice plans, which allow our students to grow more confident when creating on their own.”

Tarpon Springs’ music program has a long history of success, but Sexton is not one to be satisfied with the school’s past accomplishments. He has set some lofty goals for himself, some of which call on performance and pedagogical skills he learned during his DCI days:

  1. To help our students grow to be the best versions of themselves.
  2. To expand our students’ vocabulary, both visually and musically. Sexton gained a versatile set of vocabulary in creating and refining more contemporary choreography when he was a performer with Carolina Crown and BLAST! Brass Theater, and he instills these skills with his students.
  3. To consistently program high-quality, diverse repertoire for our students to prepare them for future performance experiences.
  4. To partner with universities in collecting qualitative and quantitative data in regards to how our program operates.

Part of achieving goal #1 of helping students be the best versions of themselves, Sexton oversees the Tri-M Music Honor Society that has approximately 40 student members. The group regularly collects donations (clothes, food and living essentials) for Pinellas HOPE, a community nonprofit, which partners with Catholic Charities to provides a variety of services and shelters for underprivileged and homeless adults and youth within Pinellas County. 

Tarpon Springs’ Tri-M chapter also helps with the annual Feed the Fosters, by donating toys, coloring books, candy canes, etc. Students also help by providing meals to children and families in need during its “Breakfast with Santa” event in December.

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Oliver William Dr.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Dr. William Oliver

Director of University Bands, Assistant Professor of Music Education
Huston_Tillotson University
Austin, Texas

Dr. William Oliver proved that he was “all in” when he arrived at Huston-Tillotson University (HT) in Austin as Assistant Professor of Music Education. “I wanted to learn about the community, so I sought resources and connected with stakeholders to teach me the city’s history and our institution’s role in its development. HBCUs are goldmines, and when tapped, they demonstrate to potential students how our university can lead them to their dreams,” he says.

A large part of the music education curriculum at HT revolves around the serious study of the voice or instrument. “I made it my mission to seek and hire the highest quality applied faculty,” Oliver explains. “Some teach in person, and others teach via Zoom. They occupy positions in military groups, professional symphony orchestras and professional jazz ensembles. As a result, students can study with professors who ‘live the degrees we offer.’”

To develop curriculum, Oliver asks for feedback from HBCU graduates and first-year teachers to identify areas of their music education where they wish they had more training. “I have since purchased guitars and added a class to help students learn essential skills for the contemporary music classroom. Additionally, I added companion private lessons on students’ primary instruments once a week, emphasizing jazz skills and techniques,” Oliver says.

He also connected with Pandora, a company that prides itself on seeking opportunities to assist university and community music organizations with developing commercial music and technology programs. He demonstrated to executives the multitude of real-world outlets that commercial music provides to the ever-changing music industry. “I brought the project to life — writing and presenting a complete curriculum with potential courses in audio engineering, hip-hop production and software courses in Logic Pro and Ableton Live,” he says.

These efforts have led to a tripling of students in his program. “My mantra for recruitment and retention is, ‘The best ability is availability,’” he says. “Meaningful relationships are typically not forged through a single encounter, such as through university-sponsored events. There must be a sustained interaction between a faculty member and a potential student during the recruitment process.”

Through the summer months, Oliver and new students touch base weekly — discussing curriculum, planning senior recitals and post-graduate school options even before they attend their first college class. “This reinforces our commitment to their persistence to graduation,” he says.

Oliver fought to take his students to the Texas Music Educators Association conference in 2022. “Our future music educators must be exposed to professional development opportunities while studying to become certified music teachers,” he explains. “I met with the university president to discuss the benefits of our attendance, highlighting the presentations, live performances and networking opportunities. Without hesitation, she agreed to cover our trip, which emphasizes the value of instilling a lifelong love for learning in our students.”

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Manela Nerissa

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Nerissa Manela

PhD Student, Teaching Assistant
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida

Nerissa Manela is at a unique crossroads between teaching in K-12 classrooms and community outreach programs and pursuing her doctorate degree.

For six years, Manela taught in Title I public schools, where she often utilized innovative technology into her curriculum. “I appreciated the silver lining of home learning during the pandemic in that all students had access to devices and the internet,” she explains. “When we returned to school in the fall of 2021, I wanted to build on the technological skills my students had learned and practiced at home.”

She was awarded a $1,000 grant from The Education Fund to purchase a class set of Makey Makeys, and had her 5th graders bring their devices to music class on a regular basis. “I knew that incorporating literature, science, technology, engineering and math in music classes would enhance the cross-curricular instruction that is crucial in a 21st century education,” she says See the projects with descriptions, photos and videos here.

Manela also works with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony as a conductor, string coach and education coordinator. She developed a bottom-up curriculum to ensure that preparatory classes and beginner-level ensembles adequately prepare students to audition for and advance through four levels of orchestra and three levels of band. Manela also observes classes, provides feedback and coordinates professional development for teachers.

On top of all this, she is a board-certified music therapist. “I know that the patience, empathy and understanding I developed from my experience in music therapy settings made me a better teacher,” she says.

After interning at Jam Sessions, a music therapy socialization group and mentoring program for neurodiverse adolescents and young adults in San Diego, Manela launched the Miami branch in 2017. “Participants work alongside volunteer mentors to sing, play instruments and build relationships,” she explains. “The Jam Sessions program helps participants and mentors develop and practice the social and communication skills needed to foster a more inclusive community.”

Once she completes her doctorate studies, Manela is excited to work with collegiate students who share the same drive to bring the possibilities of music to their future students. She is also enjoying the research aspect of the doctorate degree that is focused on teaching neurodiverse students.

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Lowry Paul

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Paul Lowry

Director of Bands, Percussion and Jazz Studies
Department Chair, Performing Arts
Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts
Las Vegas, Nevada

“When you are student- and ensemble-focused, great things can happen,” says Paul Lowry, the Director of Bands, Percussion and Jazz Studies at Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.

Lowry was given the daunting task of reviving the band program at Del Sol Academy. “To revive any program takes the whole community, and each part is equally important. We set several wheels in motion at the same time,” he says.

Developing strong meaningful relationships across the building was essential. The school’s principal always says to “do what is best for the kids,” and Lowry took his advice to heart. “We have worked hard so that our arts programs exemplify this motto,” he says.

Lowry also worked with the academic counseling staff to discuss placing students correctly, promoting the program to prospective students, student enrollment and supporting his performing arts goals.

A booster program was started, and parents eagerly filled volunteer positions. The club now hosts banquets, cultivates fundraisers and solicits donations while building a sense of community. The boosters and administration joined forces with Lowry to gradually purchase equipment over several years, and Lowry applied for every grant possible to help put better instruments into students’ hands.

These “baby steps” has allowed the music program at Del Sol Academy to make leaps and bounds toward what it is today. “Over seven and a half years, the band program has grown from a single band of 70 students to three concert bands, three jazz bands, two percussion classes, a marching band and a 90+ philharmonic orchestra totaling over 500 students combined,” Lowry boasts. “We have experienced incredible growth thus far, but we are far from being done. I am excited for what the future holds!”

This growth has come because of a constant and never-ending recruitment and retention process. “Repetition and consistency are my real secrets to recruiting. Middle schooler students should see you often enough that they know your name,” Lowry says. “We always invite our middle school students to join us at several performances, including our pre-festival concert, community performances and our spring concert, which usually includes a combined piece that we put together with select kids from the middle schools. Allowing them to perform next to seniors excites them for the next level, bridges the gap between middle school and high school, and builds mentor/mentee friendships.”

Lowry emphasizes the importance of communication, especially when integrating band merchandise. “Branding our program has been a major tool in creating exclusivity within an inclusive program,” Lowry explains. “Students want to feel like they are part of a community, so we utilize common branding on flyers, bookmarks, pencils, buttons, pins, apparel and wristbands. Not only do these items advertise our website, concert program dates, upcoming events, but they also inform students on the process to join our program. Nothing goes to waste, as any extra merchandise gets sent over to our feeder school colleagues to give out as prizes and incentives.”

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Jenkins Larry Professor

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Professor Larry Jenkins

Professor, Assistant Director of Bands
Tennessee State University
Nashville, Tennessee

The band program at Tennessee State University in Nashville is often referred to as “A Band of Firsts.” Assistant Director of Bands Larry Jenkins explains that the band is the first HBCU band to perform during a presidential inauguration and on the White House lawn, the first HBCU band (the Jazz Collegians) to perform at the Midwest Clinic and now the first band to be nominated for both a GRAMMY® and an NAACP Image® Award in the same year. “We are proud to provide our students with one-of-a-kind experiences,” he exclaims. “And it looks like 2023 is shaping up to provide several more!”

The GRAMMY and NAACP nominations are for “The Urban Hymnal,” a collaboration between Jenkins and multi-disciplinary artist Sir the Baptist. “The concept — creating a new take on hymns by merging our band sounds with gospel and Black culture, ranging from hymns to hip-hop — was developed on a napkin at a Mexican restaurant in Nashville,” Jenkins says. “Sir and I wrote a plan outlining who we wanted to be featured and how we wanted to execute it. The sound of the TSU band would serve as the link between the music of our ancestors and the music of today.”

Sir the Baptist and music producer Dallas Austin came to TSU as part of the school’s Artist in Residency program, which provides students an insider’s point of view of the inner workings of the music industry.  Jenkins says, “Through the expertise of Sir the Baptist and Dallas Austin, students learned a little bit of everything, from creating split sheets to licensing, sync and digital distribution.”    

Jenkins takes his role as an HBCU professor seriously. “I am tasked with providing an educational experience that reaches beyond the musical notes and rhythms and dives into history, community and culture,” he says. “To go a step further, as an HBCU band director, I must make sure that our students are connected to the work of our pioneers and the proud traditions they left in place for us.”

TSU’s location in Nashville, “Music City USA,” is essential to Jenkins. “My ties to the city provides vital connections between students, the music industry and the community at large,” he says.  “Through these connections, our students have garnered internships and performance opportunities. Also, it’s important for students to see me working in the field, which enhances the classroom experience.”

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Jefferson Joseph L. Dr.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Dr. Joseph L. Jefferson

Director of Jazz Studies,
Associate Professor of Trombone and Euphonium
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Helping students find their passion and accomplish their goals are the best parts of being an educator, according Dr. Joseph L. Jefferson, Associate Professor of Trombone and Euphonium and Director of Jazz Studies at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO). This comes naturally for him because he is a high-energy educator who is passionate about what he does!

“When I arrived at SEMO, participation and interest in the jazz program was very low,” he explains. “The situation at SEMO was unique on multiple fronts. In addition to recruiting current students for the jazz ensembles, I also had to recruit high school students to build a trombone and euphonium studio to support all the other instrumental ensembles at SEMO, and find ways to grow the jazz program.”

Jefferson first provided solid fundamental basics in jazz, which gave students insight on how to play jazz music and understand the culture of the genre. “My goal for jazz students is to offer them a comprehensive learning experience in both instructional and performance situations,” he says.

As interest grew, the school decided to expand jazz offerings. A jazz minor was approved in May 2020, and Jefferson started recruiting. “Rather than trying win students over, I take a genuine interest in their goals and overall fit for our music program,” he says. “One-on-one interaction with students is very meaningful during the recruiting process because it shows them that I am interested in them and their potential.”

The biggest recruiting strategy, Jefferson says, is the good work your current students do. “Their hard work is ultimately reflective of the program and the teachers who have helped them during their development,” he explains. “Potential students want to see themselves as part of your program, which is extremely critical when recruiting for the trombone/euphonium applied studio, jazz studies or the program as a whole.”

SEMO’s annual Clark Terry Jazz Festival is now in Jefferson’s capable hands. His goal for the festival is to continue to grow it in size and number of guest artists and educators who provide high-quality jazz education for local students and middle/high school directors. “We are in a rural area, so providing access in this region is critical,” he says.

Another annual performance, the Big Band Holiday Jukebox, is one of Jefferson’s favorite collaborative events. He plans to increase the quality of performances on the jazz front and to make it the premier holiday production for the region and state.

On top of his work in the music department, Jefferson is the chairperson as well as one of the founding members of the Holland College of Arts and Media Diversity Committee, which was formed in 2018. The goal of this group is to intentionally foster equity, diversity and inclusion within the college, university and service area through recruitment and retention efforts, curriculum advocacy and development, and creative activity.

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Gullickson Matt

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Matt Gullickson

Band Director
Eastview High School
Apple Valley, Minnesota

Connection is the key to Band Director Matt Gullickson’s program at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minnesota. “Music is an incredible catalyst,” he says. “For me, the greatest expression of teaching is having true connectedness with students.”

Although Gullickson implements some rigorous methods for his students — such as yoga, mental coaching and studying “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” — he gladly participates side by side with them. “I’m not afraid to do something with my students that I know will be good for them,” he explains. “And I’m not a fan of half measures — I prefer full measures. I’m sure the idea of 180 teenagers doing yoga in the wet grass sounds half-baked, but I see it as a pillar to teach vital concepts like stick-to-itiveness, gratitude and not sweating the small stuff.”

Plus, Gullickson sees another benefit. “When do teenagers get quiet time to themselves? They are always doing something,” he says. “Providing them a few peaceful minutes at the end of our yoga session to examine their own thoughts is a badge of honor for me!”

Known as a creative designer of unique, challenging and award-winning field shows, Gullickson is proud to be a part of an all-local team that has created a brand that is unmistakably Eastview. “My favorite part of designing for marching band is conjuring up ways to give students a one-of-a-kind role in our show,” he explains. “I’m always thinking: How can I use my spotlight as a designer to shine a light on a kid in a way that best fits their talents?”

The school’s 2022 fall show, “Baroque-n-Record,” was a mashup of Bach meeting Sir Mix-A-Lot. “We fed Bach to the football crowd and Dr. Dre to the competitive marching band crowd, and they were both better for it,” Gullickson laughs. “I knew I wanted to finish with Pachelbel’s Canon but not Phantom Regiment style. We used the famous chord progression as background and then put a rap over the top of it. I’d never seen rap being performed as part of a marching band show but figured it was time, and Pachelbel wouldn’t mind.”

He adds that the student who performed the rap was one of the most introverted students he’d ever taught. “To watch him perform in front of the homecoming crowd was unforgettable,” Gullickson proudly proclaims. “He had them in the palm of his hand!”

Gullickson likes to push students outside of their comfort zones. “My biggest learning moments came during times when more was expected of me than I thought I was capable of. That’s why I push students to flex different muscles,” he says. “What you believe about students becomes what you see, so it is only to your benefit to believe they are capable great things.” 

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Graves Corey L.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Corey L. Graves

Director of Bands
Tony A. Jackson Middle School
Forney, Texas

At Tony A. Jackson Middle School in Forney, Texas, the band hall is a fun place! That’s because Director of Bands Corey L. Graves has invested heavily in relationship building. “When you walk into our band hall, you see students who feel a deep sense of family and belonging,” he explains. “Our goal is to make every student in the program feel valued, heard and understood. When students know you care, they will go the extra mile every time!”

Graves enjoys teaching at the middle school level. “I love being a part of students’ introduction to music! Middle school is where the magic begins! Students are SO impressionable! I want every student to feel the same joy I had when I began my musical journey,” he exclaims.  

It is during these first influential years that students learn not only the fundamentals of making great sounds, but also how to practice, create self-discipline, push themselves to perfect skills, focus on teamwork and embrace delayed gratification. “Here students learn that failure is not the opposite of success, but a part of success,” Graves says.

It’s no wonder that his students love band. “It’s the first place most of them visit when they get to school, and the last place they leave before going home because the band hall is a strict ‘positive vibes only’ haven where everyone feels safe to be themselves,” he explains.

On top of this positivity, Graves runs a very structured and process-based program. “Our band culture is built on high expectation, not high pressure,” he says. “We strive for every student to reach their full potential by being their best, not the best. My students thrive on this type of accountability and usually far exceed their own goals! I stand in awe of the jaw-dropping music these young students are capable of playing.”

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Duras Brandon J.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Brandon J. Duras

Director of Instrumental Music
Brunswick High School
Brunswick, Maine

The first year of teaching is always exciting and nerve-wracking, but for Brandon J. Duras, the Director of Instrumental Music a Brunswick High School in Maine, it was much more than that because the pandemic hit and schools were closed. “Admittedly, I think I was in denial about school being remote for the reminder of the year,” he says. “We were told that our school would be remote for two weeks, then another two weeks. We didn’t need to meet face to face as a group to rehearse, but I wanted to. I heard from the students that their time in online rehearsals was their favorite part of the day. They needed that interaction, and honestly, I did too!”

Duras took over a strong and established program and was navigating how to make the program his own while not shaking things up too suddenly for the students. “I was confident in my abilities but felt that I had to prove myself worthy of the position,” he says. “Luckily, I had great colleagues and students to help me through the transition.”

One way that Duras has made his mark at Brunswick High is by bringing in new music and diversifying the programming. “Over the past four years, we have added about 10 new works to the wind band repertoire through commissions and consortia,” he explains. “Through these works, we have been able to build relationships with some of the composers and work with them to bring their music to life.”

Balancing staples in the repertoire with new works, especially by underrepresented composers, keeps his program moving forward. “It gives my students the opportunity to learn about the past and be part of the future,” Duras says. “Even in a state that is 94% white, it’s important for my students to represent the greater wind band world through our repertoire.”

Duras is proud of what his program has accomplished, especially at a competition in Washington, D.C. over spring break last year. His students put together music in a few short weeks, and they swept their division! The D.C. trip ended in a special way for Duras and his students — with a police escort into town. “Any chance I see a student succeed and feel proud of themselves — and these moments do not need to be musical — is a proud moment for me,” he says.

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Davis David

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

David Davis

Music Teacher
Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School
St. Louis Park, Minnesota

David Davis, the music teacher at Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, sees his students as co-learners and co-teachers, and he happily shares the teaching podium with them.

“Most of the unique aspects of my music program are student-created through highly intentional classroom facilitation and instructional design that centers student voice, choice and creativity,” he says. “By prioritizing students’ ideas, identities and cultures, I’m able to make learning intrinsically motivating and relevant. By taking this approach, the music I utilize is inevitably more culturally diverse, and students can more easily see themselves reflected in the curriculum.”

Davis believes that all students are innately musical and deserve to have a music education that is welcoming, inclusive and relevant to their lives. ”Whereas most music curricula are generally static and look the same regardless of what community they are serving, I choose to customize my music curriculum to be more organic, linked to student curiosity, and relatable to student experiences and backgrounds to better fit the ever-evolving communities I serve,” he says.

Citing constant self-learning and reflection coupled with a drive to take action toward systemic change, Davis has grown his band and orchestra program to 85% of enrollable students. Changes that supported this growth include:

  • Frequently acknowledging every student for their cultural and musical brilliance regardless of their technical skills.
  • Prioritizing student voice and choice, rather than a teacher-directed approach that just asks for compliance.
  • Decentering the Western classical aesthetic priority by emphasizing learning by ear, improvisation, dance and other music genres equally to Western technique and notation reading.
  • Reducing gatekeeping by including all instruments and genres in my curricular classes and ensembles (yes, guitars in orchestra and accordions in band!)
  • Implementing student self-assessment within a co-created rubric instead of typical grading practices, so students are invested in self-evaluation and setting growth goals.
  • An “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” registration model for my first-year instrumental program that ensures every student has a place, as well as an instrument they can use, in band or orchestra if they wish.

Running a program that pushes boundaries has paid off. “Through projects incorporating improvisation/composition, a diversity of music genres and contemporary electronic instruments, not only are my students excited to participate in class, but they are getting a much more well-rounded, holistically musically literate, creative, culturally aware music education than what I had,” he says.

During the pandemic remote learning environment, Davis experienced one of his proudest moments when his 3rd-grade class created an entirely original musical. “All I did was coach them, and this incredible bunch of 9-year-olds created original songs, characters, background music, art and storylines, sharing ideas and videos through virtual contexts,” he says. “The resulting Zoom musical brought so much joy to all of us during a challenging year.”

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Claiborne Leah N. Dr.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Dr. Leah N. Claiborne

Associate Professor of Piano
University of the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.

Teaching at an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) comes with a lot of responsibilities — something Dr. Leah N. Claiborne, Associate Professor at the University of the District of Columbia, understands and embraces. “It’s an incredible honor to teach at an HBCU that was initially founded for the purpose of educating young Black women,” she says. “Black American contributions are woven into the fabric of this country, and HBCUs honor and acknowledge the whole American story in all disciplines. While I had no idea that after graduating from the University of Michigan that I would be teaching at an HBCU, it was an obvious choice because I knew that my research would not only be welcomed, but it would be celebrated with an already long history of great scholarship on Black American music.”

While many predominately white institutions across the country have struggled in recent years to incorporate underrepresented voices in their curriculum, “it is expected that our students’ recitals, their history classes and their literature courses includes the voices of Black Americans,” Claiborne explains. “It is expected because there is an understanding that the HBCU community honors the full story of American music — a story that cannot be told fully unless it honors the contributions of Black Americans.”

Claiborne also spreads the message of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as the Director of DEI for the Francis Clark Center and the co-chair of the DEI track of the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy (NCKP). She joined the editorial committee of “American Music Teacher,” the journal of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) and proposed a column dedicated to sharing best practices of DEI efforts across the country, and having a dedicated area for teachers to share their transformative work within their communities. “The best part of writing is the feedback from colleagues across the country. After I write an article, I wonder if anyone will read this or think that this work is important,” Claiborne says. “Then once it is published, my heart swells with feedback from teachers.”

While she was still studying at the University of Michigan, Claiborne started Ebony Music to shine a spotlight on Black classical pianists and Black composers of piano music. “Representation is so vitally important in all stages of musical development, and in the area of piano, there has historically been very little representation of Black classical pianists and music by Black composers on the great performance stages in the country and across the world,” she said. “I often wonder what it would have been like if I not only had the opportunity to learn music by Black composers, but also see Black pianists on the concert stage.”

Claiborne says her greatest joy is when she hears her community speak about Black composers in the same way they speak about Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. “We need to move past the performance and education of underrepresented composers simply because they are underrepresented,” she says. “When we discuss, perform and write about this music because of its impact in our field, we honor the voices who created it. It’s a gift for me to be part of this historic journey of honoring voices and sharing them with my communities.”

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Rader Noelle

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Noelle Rader

Orchestra Teacher
Mendive Middle School
Sparks, Nevada

Noelle Rader was a viola musician, but after a performance-related injury became so severe that she could no longer play, she underwent surgery to save the long-term use of her hand. As she worked with doctors and surgeons, she became a substitute teacher to have some flexibility around necessary appointments. “I soon found the classroom to be an invigorating place, and I became extremely passionate about music education,” Rader explains. “Even though my former career ended sadly, being a teacher felt like coming home. I love teaching orchestra, and middle school is my absolute jam!”

As the orchestra teacher at Mendive Middle School in Sparks, Nevada, Rader says that student choice is a big part of her teaching philosophy. “It can be seen in our daily rehearsals where students decide what learning strategy they need for a particular song, to our concerts where students vote on each piece we perform,” she says. “I’m also very proud that the demographics of the orchestra program reflect our school. I’m happy that every kind of student sees themself in orchestra.”

Rader says that the more than 200 musicians in her orchestra aren’t just students, they are people. “I want them to feel seen and heard when they are in my classroom. We celebrate, we cheer each other on, and we share our thoughts and feelings,” she says.

Because Rader experienced pain, discomfort and eventually injury from playing an instrument, she became particularly interested in how to prevent that for her students. Body Mapping is a somatic education method that helps musicians learn about movement in music by learning about their bodies and senses. “I incorporate these principles directly into my teaching as we learn concepts in class, such as understanding where our arms actually connect to our body and how to use the arm joints freely when bowing. I believe all musicians have the right to make music free from pain and discomfort,” she says.

Rader is often asked to present her Body Mapping teaching methodology at conferences, especially because the rates of playing-related pain and discomfort among musicians is staggering, and researchers have found that this includes young musicians in elementary and secondary school. “I believe music education can no longer ignore the physical aspects of learning to play an instrument,” she explains. “Incorporating ways of supporting the physical wellbeing of our students is critical. Body Mapping can give educators the knowledge and vocabulary to support our students’ music learning. If students feel good when they play, they will be happier in our classes and have the freedom to express themselves.”

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Vazquez Miriam L.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Miriam L. Vazquez

Music Teacher
Duane D. Keller Middle School
Las Vegas, Nevada

Mariachi is so much more than a musical genre to Miriam L. Vazquez, a music teacher at Duane D. Keller Middle School in Las Vegas. It’s an inclusive movement! “Everyone can be a part of it regardless of language, age, religion or ethnic heritage,” she says. “All voices are important and valid in the promotion of mariachi education — not just Latinx educators. I say that music itself is a language, and more than ever, mariachi needs advocacy.”

Her mariachi program started with 80 students last fall, and one year later, it boasts 300 students! “Upon returning from the pandemic, many students faced great pain and fear as they lost a part of their lives that they thought could never be recovered,” Vazquez explains. “I decided to design a unique mariachi program where not only my students would feel at home, but also their families and other members of the community, who eagerly seek the warmth of being part of something great, new and with a purpose.”

Vazquez says that her program experienced an influx of non-Hispanic students who are developing a love and passion for mariachi music and “feel right at home in my classroom.” The program also provides opportunities for students to travel and gain valuable life skills that often lead to increased educational achievement, career prospects and other life aspirations.

Vazquez is described as understanding students’ social and emotional needs as well as their musical needs. She explains that gratitude is a fundamental part of the mariachi culture. “Aside from playing music together, I also encourage my students to be effective communicators,” she says. “We have developed a beautiful tradition of expressing aloud why we are grateful to have each other in our lives, which has greatly affected our culture at a school level. Not only have we seen a larger presence of music/performing arts on campus, but there has been a drastic increase in family involvement at the school — things our program has driven!”

Another way Vazquez shows gratitude is by promoting other programs at Keller during her concerts, which are some of the most well-attended shows in the district, with some drawing audiences of more than 1,000 people.

“We connect on a multi-generational level while building strong relationships among families, school and community,” she says. “In fact, we are launching our Familias Fuertes (Strong Families) sessions this semester to strengthen our family relationships through workshops that cover most of our students’ topics of need.”

Vazquez hosted the Keller Mariachi Face Off, affectionately referred to as “noche,” which brought together over 1,500 students, families and community members to celebrate the success of her growing program. “Within seven months of starting the program, we had more than 20 schools come together to make the event a success. In our specific location in the city, there aren’t a lot of community resources or community gathering places, so being able to provide this sense of community for everyone is a huge step in the right direction for us as a program and for our school.”

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Hatfield Lisa

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Lisa Hatfield

Elementary Instrumental Teacher
Batavia Elementary Schools
Batavia, Illinois

Teaching a concept like syncopation and rhythm to elementary school students can be challenging, but Lisa Hatfield, the instrumental teacher at Batavia Elementary Schools in Illinois, uses creative elements in her teaching approach. “I love to teach using fun and creative methods — and that’s how I learn, too,” she says. “For a concept like counting syncopation, I use unique aids, such as basketballs, so the kids can see, hear and even feel the down (bounce) and up (catch) beats.”

Hatfield also arranges current songs and trends to incorporate more advanced skills like accidentals and higher ranges, so students work on them over and over without realizing the repetition. “My class just learned how to play an octave from a TikTok song,” she exclaims.

Her main goal is for her students to love playing their instruments, but “for my sanity, everything I teach must also be personally entertaining, so I like to keep things new and fresh,” she says with a laugh.

Hatfield’s program boasts a retention rate well over 90%. She says that involving other music teachers and older student musicians as often as possible helps create a stronger musical community and promotes how fun and exciting the music experience can be if students stick with it! Some events that celebrate the musical progression throughout all levels include:

  • 8th grade ensembles performing and demonstrating instruments at a recruitment concert for 4th graders,
  • the marching band’s special meet-and-greet (while autographing posters) with beginning musicians,
  • the annual All-City concert that brings together hundreds of grades 5-12 musicians to perform together.

Hatfield shares her knowledge with others through a graduate course she teaches on integrating technology into school music programs. Some of her top tips? Create beautiful and environmentally friendly digital programs that the audience can scan with a smartphone, which “allows you to expand the purpose and reach of your program by including pics and gifs of your students,” she says. Hatfield also says to promote fundraisers and events with direct links, so people can dive deeper into your program notes and the history or inspiration behind your song selections. Finally, transitioning to cloud-based content and visual aids for both students and parents “enable you to effortlessly update them from year to year, share with ease and edit them quickly to accommodate different student needs from anywhere,” she says.

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Meyerson Emily

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Emily Meyerson

K-12 Music and Drama Educator
North Baltimore Local Schools
North Baltimore, Ohio

Emily Meyerson, the K-12 Music and Drama Educator for North Baltimore Local Schools, isn’t afraid to try anything to improve her program. “I came into an established program in 2010, where things had been done a certain way for so long, and I was too green to immediately shake things up,” she says. “After I had a couple of years under my belt and gained a little confidence, I knew that major change was necessary in order for this program to thrive.”

Meyerson started with a huge revamp of the middle school program. “I went from 50 kids in the middle school choir to seven, which was terrifying,” she says. “I leaned on my administration for support, and the elementary principal at the time suggested the creation of an elementary show choir as a feeder program.”

Over the next several years, her numbers grew and she started to see the fruits of her labor. Meyerson now has a strong middle and high school choir program, and she continues to use the elementary show choir as a great feeder program to get strong singers involved early.

Another change she made was switching her pedagogy to Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), a concept the art teacher introduced her to that focuses on:

  • What do artists do?
  • The child is the artist.
  • The classroom is the child’s studio.

Meyerson and the art teacher took the plunge together and incorporated this new methodology. “Switching to a TAB pedagogy completely revitalized my classroom, the way I teach and my students,” she says.

When students come into her music class, they begin with a mini-lesson or demo that usually lasts about five to seven minutes, then they are free to explore and create in whatever ways they want, within certain guidelines. “In the visual art world, TAB studios are offered by medium so you might have drawing, painting and sculpture studios,” she explains. “In music, I wanted to do the same thing, offering the same type of choices. Some of my favorite studios are boomwhackers, keyboards, ukuleles, electric guitars, electric drums, note knacks, electronic music (on iPads) and the recording studio that my custodians built for me in the back of my classroom.”

Meyerson acts as facilitator, helping students work through whatever problems that may arise as they work toward project completion of their choice. “Sometimes, it’s absolutely chaotic, and at any given time, instead of creating one lesson plan for a whole class, I could be working on 25 different things with 25 students,” she laughs. “We’ve got things in place to help with that though, including a check-in system with specific points they need to touch base with me, and a list of questions to keep them thinking, reflecting and acting like musicians.”

Meyerson also created a swing choir to push and stretch students who were ready for a bigger challenge, as well as a high school guitar program to reach students who weren’t in choir or band or those who wanted additional musical outlets. She started with a two-level class, Guitar I in the fall and Guitar II in the spring. It was a huge success and soon Guitar III was added, followed by Guitar IV this year. “I am super excited about this new course! It features more advanced guitar techniques, electric bass and culminates with a final project that will be writing, recording and producing an original song,” she says.

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Kitchell Johanna M.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Johanna M. Kitchell

Orchestra Director
Riverside Junior High School,
Riverside Intermediate School
Fishers, Indiana

Johanna M. Kitchell, the Orchestra Director at Riverside Junior High School and Riverside Intermediate School in Fishers, Indiana, is not only a problem-solver in her own right, but she is instilling this skill in her students.

Her classroom is described as an active place of learning and Kitchell knows that she is helping to “raise” not just the next generation of performers, but the next generation of music consumers. “I strive to incorporate their opinions,” she explains. “We discuss phrasing, bowing and articulation choices; then we listen and provide feedback. Students write their own program notes for concerts. We perform in the community, we attend local concerts. I try to give my students agency within our learning, and by doing so, find ways for them to feel connected to music that will last past their junior high orchestra days.”

Kitchell also gives students a voice in interpretive and musical decisions. “We all have moments where the music doesn’t have all the information, and we have to ask: Should there be a crescendo? What’s that articulation? Where in the bow? There are also times where the edits we have made still doesn’t feel right, so I ask students for their ideas, and we try them all,” Kitchell says. “We find what works best for the music, together. It takes longer than if I just told them, but that doesn’t engage their musicianship or ask them to think critically.”

Kitchell took problem-solving to a whole new level when she found that she wasn’t consistently using any method book with her second- and third-year players. She was trying to connect skills and techniques to repertoire, but most books layered so many different skills that it was hard to find exercises her students could play accurately. So, she created her own method book, “Golden Techniques for Intermediate Strings” “Each unit is built in isolation, allowing students to focus on a single skill or technique,” she explains. “The exercises introduce each concept simply, then use it in ways most commonly seen in junior high orchestra repertoire. I have found this to be a more effective way to help my students develop their playing skills.”

Kitchell, who is also the Concert Orchestra Conductor for the Indianapolis Youth Orchestra, has grown her program from 70 students to as many as 285 during her 15 years at Riverside. “That wouldn’t be possible without administrative support,” she says.

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Tran Trevor

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Trevor Tran

Head of Performing Arts,
Director of Vocal Arts
Fort Myers High School
Fort Myers, Florida

A growth mindset isn’t a trendy buzzword. It means to push students to thrive on challenge and to look at setbacks as opportunities for growth and developing skills. Trevor Tran, Director of Vocal Arts and Head of Performing Arts at Fort Myers High School in Florida, integrates this philosophy into his classroom. “Every year during the first week of school, I give a short presentation about growth mindset,” he says. “We discuss our biology and the natural learning processes of our brain in order to show how humans learn. This helps students understand how our abilities and intelligence can improve and grow.”

Tran takes this lesson beyond the first week of school “Throughout the year, students have individual goals that they work toward and track, and we strive as a class and as individuals to improve,” he explains. “The main message I want to share with other music educators is how growth mindset boosts intrinsic motivation. Students exposed to the idea are more likely to overcome adversity and have more confidence in themselves.”

And adversity has not been a stranger to Tran’s students and his music program. On top of the disruption and change from the pandemic, the Fort Myers area was hit hard by Hurricane Ian in September 2022, which devastated the community. “Despite all the challenges, my students have continued to make great strides toward becoming better musicians, and I know that they will be ready for the real world because of all the obstacles they have overcome,” Trans says proudly.

Outside of his work at Fort Myers High, Tran is expanding the musical offerings in his area. He started the Southwest Florida Choral Festival to provide the public schools and the Lee County community an opportunity to engage with high-quality choral educators. Tran’s plan includes pooling together resources and hosting a well-known choral educator in Southwest Florida to present sessions, clinic choral groups in the area and put on a showcase concert with students from the public schools. “During the past two years, we have set the foundation and started to build. The goal is to engage and collaborate with more groups to expand the event,” Tran explains. 

Another project that Tran is involved in is the Composition Colloquium, a composition education initiative sponsored by the Florida Vocal Association, which was started because there was a lack of educational resources for students interested in composition. “Since its inception, I have led workshops and private composition lessons with students across the state of Florida. These students have ranged from beginning composers to advanced writers who have composed multiple works. We hope to continue providing this resource to Florida students to help usher in the next generation of composers,” Tran says.

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Wakabayashi Nicole

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Nicole Wakabayashi

Director of Music and Drama
Notre Dame School of Manhattan
New York, New York

Notre Dame School of Manhattan is a small, all-girls Catholic school with a mission to provide education to any girl regardless of demographic or socioeconomic standing. The program that Nicole Wakabayashi, the school’s Director of Music and Drama and the Arts Department Chair, runs formally started six years ago when she started working at the school.

“This was the first time, in the recent past, that the school has had a choral music program that was integrated into the curriculum,” Wakabayashi says. “I re-built the extracurricular glee club, put on three shows each year with the choir and glee club, and music direct the spring musical. While I may not have the resources of other schools, such as a music room or a plethora of readily available instruments, I do have the many talents and energy these students bring every day. They make my experience as an educator extremely rich!”

Wakabayashi has found innovative ways to bring more inclusion and diversity to her program. In 2019, she started an arts showcase — this first production revolved around the contributions of Black artists and musicians to American culture. “The impetus of this project, titled ‘What is Black? Celebrating Black American History Through Music, Art and Poetry,’ was to give Black students a platform for expression that was unlike other experiences they had received in school,” she says.

While Wakabayashi produced and music directed the show, she let her seniors at the time curate the program. “The main curator, a Black student, wanted to show that Blackness was more transcendent than the binary ways we often look at race,” she says. “The first performance had an overwhelmingly positive impact, which propelled us into a virtual edition in 2020 and finally an in-person show in November 2022.”

The 2022 production included a heavy amount of dance, led by professional choreographer Angel Kaba, as well as a six-piece band to accompany the vocal ensembles. “I found the rehearsal process and letting the kids create something together really formed a deep sense of community. I am excited to continue this tradition every year going forward,” Wakabayashi says.

Another way she has incorporated diversity is through the Introduction to Music  Theory elective she started. “In this course, we cover all the basics of Western Music Theory — circle of fifths, triad building, rhythmic dictations, etc. — and delve into a little music history,” Wakabayashi explains. “I make sure to stress that this type of music analysis is only how a certain part of the world understands music. In order to open their eyes and ears to different types of music, I cover a little bit of everything from Hindustani Ragas, the influence of the Indonesian gamelan on French Impressionistic music, Eastern European folk music, Ghanian Gyil traditions and anything that might be ‘different’ from what we’re used to.”

As a music educator, Wakabayashi says that she lives by this quote:

Why We Teach the Arts

Not because we want you to major in the arts, or sing, paint, or dance all your life,

Not so you can just relax or have fun,

But so you will be human, so you will recognize beauty.

So you will be sensitive and be closer to an infinite beyond this world,

So you will be closer to others,

So you will continue to grow in love, compassion, gentleness and peace.

The arts are not something you do, but something you are.

Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living unless you know how to live?

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Burch Emily Williams Dr.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Dr. Emily Williams Burch

Coordinator of Music Educator,
Professor of Music
University of South Carolina, Aiken
Aiken, South Carolina

Dr. Emily Williams Burch has been described as a choral entrepreneur. “To me being a choral entrepreneur is embracing new technology as a way to deliver services, develop new content, create new formats and ultimately break the glass ceiling that is the definition of what a music educator can do,” she says. “As French educator Nadia Boulanger said, ‘To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must break them.’ That’s the out-of-the-box thinking that I embrace as a choral entrepreneur.”

In addition to her position as Coordinator of Music Educator and Professor of Music at University of South Carolina Aiken, Burch is the Executive and Artistic Director of RISE Chorales, a community-based women’s choir, and RISE Outreach, the group’s nonprofit arm. The choral group, which was formed in 2016, shows the community that through singing, women can learn crucial work-readiness skills and other soft skills that will help them succeed throughout life. “It’s the flexibility and ability to innovate and create quickly that most excites me about the RISE Chorales,” Burch says.

The outreach arm started in 2021 and offers college scholarships for RISE singers, sponsors singers to explore RISE and other music opportunities, and provide programming throughout the city to communities that do not have musical opportunities. “We also have two active programs/collaborations,” Burch explains. “We bring music to a school with students who have learning difficulties as well as to a respite care center for adults with Parkinson’s or memory loss. The most rewarding moments are seeing students who struggle with reading or sequencing grasp concepts such as literacy, composing, arranging and performing on a variety of instruments including boomwhackers, recorders and ukuleles.”

Burch also reports seeing incredible progress at the care center when participants suddenly can move to the music, access a memory or story that was previously lost, or simply interact in new ways through music in order to provide stimulation and conversation.

Another hat that Burch proudly wears is podcast host. “Music (ed) Matters” started in April 2020, and each week, Burch meets up virtually with colleagues — known and unknown — and captures their stories and expertise. Every Tuesday morning, a new episode is released featuring educators, musicians, innovators, businesspeople — “basically anyone doing incredible things that can empower and enhance our world as music educators and lovers of music,” she says. 

As if all this isn’t enough, Burch co-authored the book, “The Business of Choir,” with Alex Gartner, and says the idea for the book “stemmed from a few podcast recordings and involved working  in collaboration — which is one of my extroverted self’s favorite things to do!”

The best advice from the book, according to Burch, is that every choir (or band, orchestra, music classroom or space) has a story worth sharing — a legacy of tradition, time, love and incredible music. “But a legacy is not built on these idyllic terms alone,” Burch says. “Some important, yet occasionally overlooked, concepts are missing, such as recruitment, volunteerism, evaluation, strategic planning, accounting and fundraising, to name a few. The book enables you to connect the minutia to the music and ultimately help you quantify your choir’s story and impact on your singers and within your community. The more people who know, the more lives we can impact through the power of music!”

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González Andrés

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Andrés González

Music Director
Play on Philly
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Play On Philly (POP) provides underserved children in Philadelphia a transformative music education experience that develops and inspires the behaviors needed for a successful life. It was modeled after Venezuela’s hugely successful El Sistema program. It seems fortuitous that when Andrés González, who was trained in Venezuela’s El Sistema program for more than 20 years, moved to the United States, POP was looking for a new Music Director. “POP’s mission mirrored El Sistema’s advocacy for social justice, and when I became part of POP’s community, it felt like an extension of my work in Venezuela,” González says. “I always say that this is a life mission for me.”

POP’s program team and teaching artists are committed to cultivating musical excellence, lifelong skills and confidence. Partnering with Philadelphia schools, POP creates on-site music centers where students receive eight hours of intensive music education and ensemble practice every week after school. Now in its 12th year, POP serves more than 350 students through its pre-K-12 programs at five music centers, as well as through the POP summer program at Temple University. POP also supports young musicians in their musical studies through the Marian Anderson Young Artist Program.

After the pandemic, González saw an opportunity to change POP’s program structure. “I wanted to provide younger students with similar experiences that I had when I was their age: To play music in a large children’s orchestra and feel empowered and supported by your community of peers,” he says. “Before, K-12 students at different music centers didn’t interact too often. With the POP Children’s Orchestra, our students come together as a community and play together.”

Older students in the orchestra serve as section leaders and mentor younger students, and each instrumental part is leveled, allowing students of all ages and experience levels to play together while being challenged in meaningful ways.

In addition to finding opportunities for area children to play music, González strongly advocates for students to work with composers and performers, and through POP’s collaboration with local and national arts organizations, he’s able to create relationships with composers and musicians. “We partner with artists and organizations that hold similar values to us and are committed to giving our students high-quality instruction and experiences,” González says. “We’re in constant communication with partner organizations, composers and renowned soloists to find different kinds of collaborative projects and performances to bring together our curricular goals, recognition of our students in Philadelphia and beyond, and high expectations of artistry and musicianship.”

González shares his world view with his students. “I come from a family and a country with nearly no orchestral and classical music traditions. I know that community-based programs are such an important piece of our societies because every time we include and give access to new young musicians, we are also giving access to their families to new opportunities and make them feel part of the world,” he says.

He regularly shares videos of performances by the Berlin Philharmonic or other important ensembles in the world to show his students what an orchestra should sound and look like on the stage and to create connections to the orchestral training field in the world. “We can’t limit our communities to only what they are used to living and seeing, educators are also a window to the world,” González says. 

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Ganong Derek Dr.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Dr. Derek Ganong

Assistant Professor of Trumpet,
Director of Jazz
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

Rethinking music degrees in higher education and bringing them into the 21st century is a pretty tall order, but Dr. Derek Ganong is up for the challenge. As the Director of Jazz and Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Boise State University in Idaho, Ganong acknowledges that “it’s always hard to innovate within music education due to the tradition-bound nature of the discipline. However, because Boise State University is a truly innovative place, this thinking is bleeding into our music department. We are in the midst of an experiment to see how music in higher education will tolerate innovation on a grand scheme.”

Part of this experiment is Ganong’s development of a music production certificate that is slated to begin in the fall of 2023. “It took three years to get a majority vote on this certificate program in my department,” he explains. “After that, it was swiftly approved by the higher administrative layers and is currently in the implementation stage — the place where the majority of plans that fail will fail. It’s my task to, in addition to my normal workload, create these courses, find spaces, create schedules, get funding for technology, and market the certificate. I have a few partners within the college, but the onus is on me to make this actually happen in fall 2023.”

Despite the robust and thriving nature of the music industry, Ganong says that Boise State’s music curricula continues to reinforce systemic music education or trains students exclusively for the performance of live concerts on stage. “I address this by still focusing on the performing aspect, but I also incorporate career education and open discussion/mentoring of students in music industry skills,” he says.

This means a lot of independent study courses, outside workshops, bringing in guest speakers and artists, personal investment in equipment, constant contact with industry folks, and time spent on personal development. All this work has paid off. Some of Ganong’s students’ successes include:

  • Producing a full analog synthesis album after working with Ganong,
  • Creating an original music soundtrack for a student’s video game final project who had no prior music skills
  • Becoming the first-ever intern with Ableton Live after an independent study course with Ganong.

“My students thrive on this ala-carte system,” Ganong says proudly.

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Weir Sara

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Sara Weir

Music Teacher
Park View Middle School
Cranston, Rhode Island

Sara Weir’s influence on the Cranston community in Rhode Island is far-reaching. In addition to her position as a music teacher at Park View Middle School where she incorporates technology and innovative manipulatives to help her students learn, she has developed a community choir and a district-wide symphony orchestra!

Weir’s 7th- and 8th-grade general music students learn about technology as well as music. Her students use supplemental instructional apps like Youcisian or YouTube tutorials in between direct or one-on-one instruction on ukulele, guitar and piano. Additionally, her classes do a Foley Art lesson where students record everyday sounds using CapCut and Vocaroo and layer them over a short film. “I love this lesson because students get to see the history of sound effects from when it was mostly physical objects and the progression to using digital sounds and keyboard sound effects,” she says.

Weir’s music program is built on relationships between students. “We work together in class as a team to learn, and then eventually perform,” she explains. “Students teach each other, and students get to have choices in what pieces we perform. We try to have hands-on activities and instruments for all our classes. If we don’t have the physical instrument, we utilize as much technology as we can.”

In addition to the use of cutting-edge tech, Weir also goes “old school” by using several different manipulatives to help her strings students with bow holds. “Our school can’t afford the silicone bow-hold aids for all my students, so I went online and found a YouTube video on how to make ‘pinky houses,’” she explains. “The kids love the name, and the flexibility of the tape allows students to build the muscles with help. In time, the tape comes off, and they are ready to play. I see an improvement each year, as students begin to master the fine motor skills.”

Manipulatives are also used in Weir’s band class, where flute, clarinet and saxophone players create pencil instruments and use a Sharpie to mark dashes for the keys. “It’s very compact (travel sized!) but allows students to practice fingerings on a smaller scale before transferring the skill to their larger instrument. It also makes for a handy replacement when they forget their instrument,” she says.

While working on her master’s degree in education leadership and policy from Boston University, Weir decided to create a community choir to fulfill the community engagement part of her practicum requirements. “I felt that a community choir would be a great way to bring all ages and levels together to sing and heal, post COVID,” she says. “I had a few goals: 1) sing as much as possible, no matter what; and 2) to use movement and mindfulness to  connect with our bodies and voices.”

Weir plans to facilitate and aid the community choir in whatever way she can, both as a member of the community and as a Cranston Public Schools representative and educator. “We would like to expand our programming and do more than one performance this spring,” she says.

In addition to the community choir, Weir also started a district-wide symphony orchestra. “When I attended Cranston schools as a child, we didn’t have orchestra or strings past 8th grade,” she says. “When a graduating high school senior (who was headed to the University of Rhode Island) reached out to me over the summer and asked me to help him continue the symphonic orchestra he was running at his school, I said yes! We could combine our dreams — his of conducting original symphonic works and mine of creating a community space.”

The Cranston Symphonic Orchestra features students in grades 7-12 from the four middle and two high schools. In addition to performing original and arrangements of master symphonic works, Weir encourages and provides support on auditions and music from other community groups. Students rehearse for two hours every week and will perform several concerts this year, as well as guest perform at several others to help with recruitment. “It’s an excellent chance for students to build a social network across the city,” Weir says.

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Schepart Caleb

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2023

Caleb Schepart

Music Teacher
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark Academy
Dobbs Ferry, New York

The Dr. Kenneth B. Clark Academy (KCA) in Dobbs Ferry, New York is part of the Greenburgh-Northcastle School District, a special act district that teaches students with significant learning and developmental diagnoses that require specially designed instructional approaches to support their individualized education program (IEP) objectives. 

Caleb Schepart, the music teacher at the KCA, is familiar with special act schools. As a child, his parents both worked at a school similar to KCA, which was designed to meet the unique learning needs of the residential students living on campus in the care of a residential agency. Schepart joined the school’s staff in 2004, helped develop its burgeoning music program and worked there for 10 years while completing his education to become a certified music educator. “After teaching for several other school districts, I was delighted to return to my roots at another special act school,” he says.   

Because his students at KCA are typically “nontraditional learners who have not found success in their home school districts, I developed a nontraditional music program to better meet their unique learning needs,” Schepart explains. “I want my students to be intrinsically motivated to participate, ask questions, sing, play and otherwise learn about music.”

KCA doesn’t have a formally defined band, but rather it supports a variety of small groups that form and regroup depending on the songs, projects and performance opportunities that the students are interested in. “I manage and oversee these groups, placing as much responsibility as possible with the students. There are different kinds of performance and recording opportunities throughout the year,” Schepart says.

To facilitate his nontraditional program, Schepart created a nontraditional learning environment by transforming his class so that it has the look and feel of a café/coffee house. “I wanted to create a ‘real-world’ music space that had to function as a classroom. The café/coffee house vibe feels like a place where people can relax and also get things done. There is a performance/stage area, chessboard café tables that also function as desks and a PA system,” he says.

The nontraditional classroom décor is an important part of creating a low-pressure music-oriented environment where “students who otherwise showed little willingness to play or sing started singing unconsciously and without fanfare, or made requests to play a karaoke track for them, or showed me what they knew how to play on the piano but had kept to themselves for the past three years,” he says.

KCA’s administration have supported Schepart’s vision, including the flexibility to create courses for unique groups of students. “I am able to offer empowering learning experiences through a skillful blend of technical instruction and inquiry-based learning,” he explains.

For example, Schepart developed an instrument-making course and a course on music in video games, film and TV. “These courses supported brain-based learning and offered opportunities for students to leverage their multiple intelligences,” he says. “Part of my research for the creation of these courses involved interviewing and surveying prospective students, so I was able to plan the courses with student interests in mind.”

During the instrument-making course, students constructed kalimbas (thumb pianos). “We listened to music and talked while our hands were busy with the often repetitive tasks of cutting, smoothing, bending, drilling, wire wrapping and assembling,” Schepart says. “A conversation about the ethics and legality of harvesting and using hard woods led to discussions on economics, climate change, physics, poaching and rights for indigenous people.”

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Burdette Gabriella

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Gabriella Burdette

Orchestra Director
Grace James Academy of Excellence
Louisville, Kentucky

Inclusivity and empowerment are the focal points at Grace James Academy of Excellence, a magnet middle school in Louisville, Kentucky, with an Afrocentric STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) perspective for Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS). The school’s innovative and student-centered vision are what attracted Orchestra Director Gabrielle Burdette. “The encouragement from administrators to give students limitless possibilities and new experiences was an important factor to me when I joined the team at Grace James,” she says.

Her goal for the orchestra program is to empower each student to achieve excellence in playing an instrument in the orchestra, while incorporating the specialized curriculum of the school. “Each unit of study is created and developed to represent the Afrocentric themes of Identity, Humanity, Justice and Oppression, African Diaspora, Intersectionality and Black Joy,” Burdette says. “The Afrocentric and gender-specific curriculum provides students with opportunities to share their personal opinions and perspectives, collaborate with others, draw connections between the content and their personal lives, and provide relatable instruction about women’s roles in music.”

For example, for the Identity unit, students collaborated to create a battle composition, where they played their instruments and “battled” with another section in the orchestra. Students then discussed how they were able to apply their own personalities and music choices into the collaborative activity.

For the Justice and Oppression unit, students went on a field trip to watch a youth orchestra perform Western-style music. They then identified, described and compared the music from the concert to African-American composers like Florence Price, Joseph Bologne, William Grant Still and more.

Burdette says that the concerts her orchestra puts on are intentionally prepared with the Afrocentric curriculum in mind. “We have studied history and performed pieces such as ‘Kumbaya,’ ‘Were You There,’ ‘Lift Every Voice,’ rap music, ‘Adoration’ from Florence Price and more,” Burdette says.

She also brings in professional ensembles and musicians from the Louisville Orchestra to her classroom, which opens the door to many collaborative opportunities and perspectives that enriches students’ lives. “I constantly tell my students that I love showing their talent and skills off as much as I can,” Burdette says. “With the support from the administration, they notice how much we invest and believe in their potential. It is truly all about the students and giving them limitless possibilities.”

Grace James students are excited to learn new skills and repertoire, and more importantly, “they are able to see and perform musical selections from artists who look like them, and they, in turn, learn how to be bold, driven and themselves,” says Burdette.

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Burnside Logan

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2023

Logan Burnside

Band Director
Jordan High School
Jordan, Minnesota

As a young music educator in Minnesota, Logan Burnside found a unique way to glean wisdom and knowledge from seasoned directors who have developed great instrumental music programs. He created a podcast called The Band Director’s Lounge and interviews band directors from around the country. Some of Burnside’s favorite pieces of advice from recent episodes of the podcast include:

  • “A great band program helps students get better. It doesn’t matter if they are the best band in the district or the country — it matters that they improve and find joy in music. That can happen anywhere.” — Elizabeth Jackson Kirchhoff (episode #28), Eden Prairie (Minnesota) High School
  • “A great band program is a program that makes a difference in your community, and that can look different wherever you teach.” — Robert Baca (episode #35), University of Wisconsin Eau Claire
  • “You can’t teach excellence without having achieved excellence.” —Scott Guidry (episode #34), Bemidji (Minnesota) State University

These podcast interviews have resulted in Burnside growing his own music program at Jordan High School with some innovative programs, such as the Jordan Band Academy, a peer-to-peer music lesson and mentorship program where high school students volunteer to teach lessons to middle school students. Burnside and his middle school colleague, Tracy Cederstrom, pair up high school and middle school students based on their combined knowledge of students’ skills, abilities and personalities. “Then we just get out of the way and let the high school students work their magic! We have found that the student volunteers are very benevolent and truly want to give back and help make the program grow. Likewise, the middle school students want to learn and improve. Our three district buildings (elementary, middle and high schools) are across the street from each other, so students are able to easily walk back and forth,” Burnside says.

Another special program at Jordan High created by Burnside and Kathryn McKnight, who teaches choir at the school, is “Music Theory Lunch.” Because the school does not offer a music theory class, the two teachers co-teach a brief lesson during a weekly informal lunchtime meeting for students interested in music-theory-related topics, such as composition, sight-singing and rhythm-reading. According to Burnside, the students who attended and brought their lunch down to one of the music rooms, loved it.

Burnside also expanded student leadership roles in the band room. “Shortly after I began teaching, I invited students to nominate peers to be their student leaders,” he says. “This leadership group met once a week before or after school to learn how to be effective leaders in the music room, in their academics and life at large. I prepared brief topics for discussion at each meeting, drawing from musicians and non-musicians alike, including Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, Simon Sinek, Steven R. Covey, Jocko Willink, Jon Gordon and more.”

Students responded well to this, and Burnside believes that they are the main reason for the positive, inclusive and encouraging band culture that exists in Jordan High’s program. “More importantly, it gave students ownership over what was happening, providing opportunities to voice concerns and learn how to co-lead the bands,” he says. “As a result, it only made the band environment better and drew more students to want to be a part of the ensembles.”

Burnside continues, “Band is the place that it should be — safe, supportive, challenging, rewarding and fun. I am incredibly proud of my students, who they are and who they go off into the world to be outside our high school. However, I am filled with joy by how many students cite feeling supported and cared for in band. They openly talk about feeling like they belong to a team and family and they have fun as part of their band experience.”

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Wines Susan

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Susan Wines

Orchestra Director
Wade Hampton High School
Greenville, South Carolina

Imagine taking your district’s strings program from an exploratory course to a seven-year investment (from 6th through 12th grade)? That’s exactly what Susan Wines did at Greenville County School District.

“For the first half of my career, I taught band and orchestra at a middle school that was severely affected by the economic crash of 2008,” Wines says. “For two consecutive years, the principal had to cut employees to maintain the budget, and despite recommendations to cut my position, she preserved not only my position, but both programs because she saw the positive effect music had on our community.”

Wines moved to Wade Hampton High School, where the program was half the size of her middle school one, and she immediately saw how a middle school music educator can positively influence the high school program. “I have long held a  vision for fostering lifelong musicianship, but this new position shed light on the ramifications of our decisions as directors as well as the need to create a team, from the first year students enter the music program through graduation,” she notes.

As the lead teacher for the orchestra division for the district, which has 15 high schools, 30 middle schools and more than 50 elementary schools, Wines revisits the topic regularly. “There is no direct feeder system for orchestra programs, which has exacerbated the retention conundrum for all music programs,” she explains. “I have restructured our directors to be part of specific ‘orchestra teams’ that promote unity and provide support for one another while championing students to stay in the program for all seven years. I encourage my colleagues to not only dream but to make definitive plans that moves all of our programs forward through joint events that showcases the seven-year investment.”

Wines knows that investing in each student takes efforts, “but it yields long-term, I would even argue lifelong, results.”

On top of her work at Hampton High and the district, Wines is also the Education Director and Conductor of the Greenville County Youth Orchestra. After securing funding through corporate donors, she initiated this now annual program for students from 6th through 12th grade. The program welcomes any student to the program, and Wines helped to expand the structure to be a five-tiered orchestra program plus a new wind symphony program.  

Lauded for her work at the district and county-wide level, Wines is also innovative in the classroom. She often merges multiple disciplines — such as music and history or orchestra and writing — to engage her students to make connections and forge relationships. “Last year, one of my orchestras worked on ‘Agincourt’ by Doug Spata,” she says. “Instead of focusing on time signature, finger patterns and bowing, I knew that this piece afforded my students with so much more opportunity to learn.”

Not only did her students form small groups to discuss the history of the Battle of Agincourt, they also speculated which melodic theme was the English versus the French, and why the composer chose 7/8 as the time signature as they mapped the battle through the repertoire.

“When the students came back together, a full group discussion ensued, and history buffs emerged as they shared their thoughts and opinions,” Wines shares. “Moments like these not only allowed students to shine and share their knowledge with their peers, but they infused students with more confidence while they saw their value within the orchestra program as well as life.”

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Fripp Jasmine M.T.

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Jasmine M.T. Fripp

Director of Choral Activities and General Music
KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School
Nashville, Tennessee

“Passion and excellence are contagious, transparency breeds trust, and structure brings stability,” says Jasmine M.T. Fripp, the Director of Choral Activities and General Music at KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School.

Fripp walks into every rehearsal with excitement and a genuine love for the art of music-making. Not only does she hold her students to a very high level of excellence, she finds ways through music to showcase the beauty in Black and Brown cultures. “Because I create structure through planned rehearsals, retreats, performances, choir outings and trips, kids take the music program as seriously as I do,” she explains. “They understand what we do as an ensemble has purpose and goals to achieve.”

She finds ways to weave history, culture and issues of social justice into her general music program. “Within my general music classes, we study Black and Latinx cultures through music,” she says. “We talk about how Black and Latinx cultures either laid the foundation for or had a large impact on various music genres. We also discuss heavier topics like cultural appropriation, protest songs, racism and colorism in the music industry. Lastly, I teach students how to fight for social justice through music and other talents.”

Her mission to have more diversity and inclusion in the world of music education led Fripp to create The Passionate Black Educator, which “aims to advocate for students of the global majority by providing opportunities to learn and advance through music, fine arts and education,” she says. The organization empowers music educators of all cultural backgrounds to create student-centered classroom environments that promote anti-racism, culturally responsive pedagogy and healing-centered teaching.

Not surprisingly, Fripp is a sought-after clinician for her work in music education and anti-racist pedagogy. Some of the main messages she teaches through her presentations include:

  • Music from Black, Brown, Indigenous and Asian cultures hold just as much educational value as Euro-centric music. If you don’t know about cultural music, don’t be afraid to seek out experts and resources.
  • Becoming an anti-racist music educator is a continuous process that cannot be done by simply checking off a list of “anti-racist deeds.”
  • Racism and white supremacy culture in music education negatively impacts students and teachers.
  • There is beauty in solidarity. Make it mandatory in your music classroom.

Fripp came to the attention of many music educators in 2020 when she posted “With Love, Letters to my Fellow White Music Colleagues” on Facebook. She explains that during her reflection time following the murder of George Floyd, she thought of “all the inequities that I witnessed within music education and how it impacted my Black and Brown students, and me. For years, I suppressed my feelings and kept my observations to myself, but through this letter, I finally dared to say, ‘enough is enough.’”

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Griffin Kylie

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Kylie Griffin

Elementary Music Teacher
Dozier Elementary
Erath, Louisiana

Kylie Griffin brings her love of southern Louisiana music, culture and language into her classroom at Dozier Elementary School in Erath, Louisiana. She wants her students to appreciate the cultural identity of their community at a time when Cajun and Créole French culture are rapidly declining. “In 1921, French was banned in Louisiana schools in an effort to Americanize the state’s population,” Griffin explains. “Our grandparents were humiliated and abused for speaking French. That’s why I teach Cajon and Créole French songs to my students as well as use French in my classroom.”

Griffin says that the music she teaches has inspired the community as a whole. “Family members tell me how much it means to them to hear their children sing French songs, especially to their grandparents who speak the language fluently,” she says. 

Outside her music classroom, Griffin finds time to promote the area’s music through groups like the Bayou Tigre Steppers, the state’s first school-sponsored, student-led zydeco ensemble, which she started in 2021. This Bayou Tigre Steppers consist of older students who want to continue playing the music of their families. “My goal with this ensemble is to create lifelong musicians who can preserve and continue our beautiful culture,” she says.

Griffin’s love of zydeco started during her graduate studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she played in the Ragin’ Steppers band. After graduating, Griffin and her husband, Gregg, started their own group called Poisson Rouge, which just released “Là -Bas,” its first full album that is available on all streaming platforms.

Griffin also started Petits Cajuns, a Cajun French music camp, with her husband and Jason Harrington — both music teachers in the district. Camp attendees choose to learn accordion, fiddle or acoustic guitar. “Our goal as music educators is to create lifelong musicians who want to continue to play in some capacity after they leave our music program, even if that means singing or playing songs for their children later down the road,” she says. “I hope that students in my classes, the Bayou Tigre Steppers and campers at Pettis Cajuns will continue to play and sing Cajun, Créole French and zydeco music!”

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Chilton Rob

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Rob Chilton

Creator
RC Theory
Frisco, Texas

The pandemic provided an unforeseen opportunity for Rob Chilton. “When school shut down in March 2020, I decided to make videos lessons to continue teaching my beginning band students,” he explains. “I decided that the option that provided the most value would be investing my time in strengthening my students’ literacy from home. Teaching the nuts and bolts of rhythm, staff notation and piano keyboard seemed to be easier to do remotely than monitoring their embouchure, hand position and other elements of performing.”

Starting with a basic camera, white board and colored dry-erase markers, Chilton soon began experimenting with graphic design and more professional software. He then added special effects and different characters into his lessons. Videos became a viable virtual tool to teach his students at Killian Middle School in Lewiston, Texas, throughout the 2020-2021 school year.

In May 2021, Chilton made the tough decision to leave the classroom to develop his video series that he named RC Theory, which is geared for beginning band, orchestra and choir classrooms. During its first year, RC Theory was used in 12 schools in two states. Currently, it is being taught in 85 schools across 10 states. “I’ve had the opportunity to visit multiple schools that use RC Theory, and the reception has been incredible,” Chilton says. “Students tell me that they love the videos and often ask for autographs and want me to do impressions of myself from the videos!”

Music educators say that RC Theory introduces concepts quickly and efficiently and makes reading music fun. They also tell Chilton that the series of 36 weekly videos lessons gives them a little breathing room in their busy schedules.

Chilton started RC Theory as a way to connect with today’s generation of learners, who are living in a drastically different world than the one he grew up in the 1990s. “They play video games, watch YouTube and scroll social media,” he says. “My videos are professionally made but with a YouTube feel. Colorful graphics, special effects and quick dialogue make learning to read music feel more relevant to today’s generation.”

Chilton’s immediate goal is to reach more music educators to introduce them to RC Theory and how it can help streamline their musical literacy instruction. His long-term goal is to develop more content that positively impacts the experiences of both teachers and students. “The job of a teacher isn’t getting easier, and I want to bring relief to the table to empower educators to do their job with efficiency and longevity.” Chilton says. “For students, I want to make learning to read music fun and desirable!”

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Spakes Taylor

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

Taylor Spakes

Director of Performing Arts
West Rowan Middle School
Salisbury, North Carolina

When the band program at West Rowan Middle School was in danger of being cut, Taylor Spakes, the choir director, stepped in. “Knowing that both band and chorus is so important to the community, I could not allow for one of the programs to be cut from the school,” she says. “The high school program was in a state of regrowth after COVID, and eliminating its main feeder band program was not an accessible option.”

To prepare herself for her new position as Director of Performing Arts, Spakes met (and continues to meet) with other band directors to receive what she calls “band director lessons. They have been a huge help in getting me up to speed on correct technique with playing instruments and learning the keys to a successful band program, as well as how to fix an instrument, how to teach a beginning instrumentalist, and how to put an instrument together for the first time,” she says.

Luckily for Spakes, her choir experience provided the foundation for how to run a music program. “When in comes to performing, music is music, no matter the vessel,” she says. “Specifically, teaching choir has given me a leg up on how to teach ear training, aural skills and audiation. I infuse singing into the band program to help train ears, which has proven to be helpful in sight reading.”

One of Spakes’ proudest moment as a music educator happened in the spring of 2022 at a combined concert with the high school choir. “Each year, my choir students sing ‘Seasons of Love’ from ‘Rent,’” she explains. “We also learn the song in sign language to show how music can be experienced by those in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. At this concert, all choir students from 6th to 12th grade had learned that song with me. The stage was flooded with my current and past students to create a massive choir. Seeing all my students from the beginning of my teaching career to the current year was the most fulfilling and beautiful way to end the school year.”

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Aguilar John

Back to 40 Under 40

2023

John Aguilar

Director of Bands
Robert Eagle Staff Middle School
Seattle, Washington

Which of these is plausible for a middle school band?

a) Traveling across the country to perform at two battle of the bands.

b) Performing at a Seattle Storm halftime show, which has garnered more than 2 million views across social media platforms.

c) Recording a song with rapper Bruce Wayne (Marlon Wood).

d) All of the above.

If you know John Aguilar, the Director of Bands at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School in Seattle, then you would immediately pick d) all of the above — and you would be right.

Aguilar explains that Curtis Akeem, a social media comedian, personality and marching band advocate from Atlanta, reached out to him after seeing his middle school band on Instagram. Akeem wanted to support the band, so Aguilar asked him to come to Seattle to work with his students on a parody of a song that they planned to perform at a Seattle Storm halftime show. Akeem MC’d the show, which featured artists Bruce Wayne (Marlon Wood) and Alexandra Fresquez. Not only was the show a success — it was shared on social media and to date has more than 2 million views! This led to the Robert Eagle Staff band being invited to participate in two HBCU-inspired battle of the bands in Atlanta in the spring of 2023.

Aguilar and Bruce Wayne (Marlon Wood) both attended the University of Washington (UW), where Wood was a football player in the 2000s before becoming a rapper and educator, and Aguilar was the drum major in the 2010s. “Although we were a few years apart, we crossed paths when the UW Husky Band asked me to arrange one of Marlon’s songs for them to play,” Aguilar says.

Both men wanted to inspire the youth and the community through an original song. “SOAR” was created to uplift listeners through themes of hope, motivation, pride and perseverance. “After the struggles and educational effects of the pandemic years, it was just inspiring to see students not only return to their original musical form, but also evolve and try new things that were firsts for our program,” Aguilar says. “We became the first middle school marching band in our district to release an original song on streaming platforms, and during that journey, the song was nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, and the “SOAR” music video has amassed over 1 million views on YouTube. What was more inspiring was to see and hear students singing the song whenever it came on the radio or played over the school speakers. It truly became THEIR song!”

By bringing in Black artists/educators like Akeem and Wood, students “learn Black music in a culturally authentic way,” Aguilar says. “It also gives them a chance to meet the artists/educators and hear their stories and journeys, making the education more than just about music, but holistically about life.”

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40 Under 40 – 2023

2023 Yamaha “40 Under 40” — Excellence in Music Education

Yamaha launched the “40 Under 40” music education advocacy program in 2021 to celebrate and recognize outstanding music educators who are making a difference by growing and strengthening their music programs. Now, we celebrate the 2023 group of remarkable educators who triumphed before and during the pandemic to keep their programs thriving.  

These 40 educators — all under the age of 40 — showcase the following characteristics: action (anticipate what needs to be done and proactively take the necessary steps that lead to a stronger music program), courage (propose and implement new or bold ideas), creativity (show innovation and imagination in achieving plans and objectives) and growth (establish, grow or improve music education in their schools and communities). 

We received hundreds of nominations from students, parents, other teachers and administrators, local instrument dealers and mentors. The selected “40 Under 40” educators below have gone above and beyond to elevate music and music-making in their students’ lives — like Terry Nguyen, who shares traditional Japanese and Asian cultural and traditional arts, especially taiko drumming; Jennifer Stadler, who incorporates fun games and technology into her lessons at her private piano studio; Amanda Schoolland, whose music program honors the culture and traditions of the Tsimshian people who live in the small Alaska town of Metlakatla where she teaches; Alexander Wilga, who coordinated a proposal that secured guaranteed funding for music programs across his district; and Kenneth Perkins, who started a faculty and staff choir at his elementary school.

All the “40 Under 40” educators have remarkable stories behind their teaching philosophies and methods, and you’ll be inspired by all of them. 

Join us in appluading the 2023 class of “40 Under 40” educators.

2023

John Aguilar

Director of Bands
Robert Eagle Staff Middle School
Seattle, Washington

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2023

Dr. Emily Williams Burch

Coordinator of Music Educator,
Professor of Music
University of South Carolina Aiken
Aiken, South Carolina

Read more

2023

Gabriella Burdette

Orchestra Director
Grace James Academy of Excellence
Louisville, Kentucky

Read more

2023

Logan Burnside

Band Director
Jordan High School
Jordan, Minnesota

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2023

Rob Chilton

Creator
RC Theory
Frisco, Texas

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2023

Dr. Leah N. Claiborne

Associate Professor of Piano
University of the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.

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2023

David Davis

Music Teacher
Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School
St. Louis Park, Minnesota

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2023

Brandon J. Duras

Director of Instrumental Music
Brunswick High School
Brunswick, Maine

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2023

Jasmine M. T. Fripp

Director of Choral Activities and General Music
KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School
Nashville, Tennessee

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2023

Dr. Derek Ganong

Assistant Professor of Trumpet,
Director of Jazz
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

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2023

Andrés González

Music Director
Play on Philly
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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2023

Corey L. Graves

Director of Bands
Tony A. Jackson Middle School
Forney, Texas

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2023

Kylie Griffin

Elementary Music Teacher
Dozier Elementary School
Erath, Louisiana

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2023

Matt Gullickson

Band Director
Eastview High School
Apple Valley, Minnesota

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2023

Lisa Hatfield

Elementary Instrumental Teacher
Batavia Elementary Schools
Batavia, Illinois

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2023

Dr. Joseph L. Jefferson

Director of Jazz Studies,
Associate Professor of Trombone and Euphonium
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

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2023

Professor Larry Jenkins

Professor, Assistant Director of Bands
Tennessee State University
Nashville, Tennessee

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2023

Johanna M. Kitchell

Orchestra Director
Riverside Junior High School,
Riverside Intermediate School
Fishers, Indiana

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2023

Paul Lowry

Director of Bands, Percussion and Jazz Studies
Department Chair, Performing Arts
Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts
Las Vegas, Nevada

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2023

Nerissa Manela

PhD Student, Teaching Assistant
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida

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2023

Emily Meyerson

K-12 Music and Drama Educator
North Baltimore Local Schools
North Baltimore, Ohio

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2023

Dr. William Oliver

Director of University Bands, Assistant Professor of Music Education
Huston_Tillotson University
Austin, Texas

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2023

Noelle Rader

Orchestra Teacher
Mendive Middle School
Sparks, Nevada

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2023

Caleb Schepart

Music Teacher
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark Academy
Dobbs Ferry, New York

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2023

James Sepulvado

Performing Arts Department Chair,
Associate Professor of Music
Cuyamaca College
Rancho San Diego, California

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2023

Dr. Timothy S. Sexton

Associate Director of Bands
Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts
Tarpon Springs, Florida

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2023

Dylan Sims

Director of Bands
York Middle School
York, South Carolina

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2023

Marcus D. Smith

Choral Director, Music Educator
Baltimore City College
Baltimore, Maryland

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2023

Taylor Spakes

Director of Performing Arts
West Rowan Middle School
Salisbury, North Carolina

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2023

Theodore Thorpe III

Director of Choral Activities
Alexandria City High School
Alexandria, Virginia

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2023

Jabari Tovar

Instrumental Music Teacher,
Percussion Specialist
Salem Public Schools
Salem, Massachusetts

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2023

Trevor Tran

Head of Performing Arts,
Director of Vocal Arts
Fort Myers High School
Fort Myers, Florida

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2023

Miriam L. Vazquez

Music Teacher
Duane D. Keller Middle School
Las Vegas, Nevada

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2023

Nicole Wakabayashi

Director of Music and Drama
Notre Dame School of Manhattan
New York, New York

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2023

Sara Weir

Music Teacher
Park View Middle School
Cranston, Rhode Island

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2023

Greg White

Director of Bands
Ronald Reagan High School
San Antonio, Texas

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2023

Tyler Wigglesworth

Choir Director, Performing Arts Academy Coordinator, Vocal Music Director
West Covina High School
West Covina, California

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2023

Jeremy Williams

Band Director
L.H. Marrero Middle School
Marrero, Louisiana

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2023

Franklin J. Willis

Adjunct Professor of Music Education
Vanderbilt University, Blair School of Music
Nashville, Tennessee

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2023

Susan Wines

Orchestra Director
Wade Hampton High School
Greenville, South Carolina

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