Despite many ups and downs health-wise during the last six years, including some that have taken Katie O’Hara LaBrie away from the classroom, she has remained committed to advocating for music education. “Whether I’m mentoring a fellow teacher, Zooming with an orchestra across the country, creating content for a conference presentation, writing music for colleagues or creating guides to learning, I have kept the creative nature and the spirit of music education close at hand, despite my physical setbacks,” she says. “In some ways, having my own physical hurdles has kept me open to others in a unique way. Understanding that you never truly know what’s going on in someone’s day or someone’s life is a valuable lesson that has changed how I approach students and situations over time.”
When the pandemic started, LaBrie’s band director husband was looking for materials to use during distance learning. “I came up with ‘Distance Duets,’ which is a set of five progressive duets from grades 1 to 4,” she explains. “The idea was to let students create ensemble-based music when live ensembles weren’t possible. Students could record and play along with their own recording or share with a friend. I gave these compositions away for free and was excited to see students from elementary through high school using them both during the start of the pandemic and today.”
At the same time, LaBrie wrote “Epic Quest,” which was commissioned by the Fairfax Arts Coalition for Education in memory of Larry Ferris, who ran the county’s Instruments for All program. “This is a flexible recruitment piece that goes along with a story, ideal for encouraging new young musicians, with versions written for different ensemble types and levels,” LaBrie says.
Early in LaBrie’s career, she discovered that music students often don’t know how to practice, so she put together strategies to help students achieve “OMGs” (Obtainable Musical Goals). “Over time, I developed a method of practicing that focused on quality over quantity which created vast improvement of students’ understanding of the fundamentals of music as well as marked improvement in our rehearsals,” she says.
She then worked with her band colleague, Tracy Magwire, to further develop practice strategies with “The Big IDEA” (which stands for Identify, Decide, Execute and Analyze). They created a website of free resources to share with the music community at practicewithpurpose.net.
“One of the keys to teaching The Big IDEA is to teach the concepts in chunks and provide background knowledge,” LaBrie explains. “Through our resources we ease students into learning how to practice with purpose step by step. One of my big goals as a music educator is to share! Share music, share ideas, share resources.”