Noelle Rader was an aspiring professional violist, 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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