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 employee positions 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 (GCYO). The GCYO welcomes any student, 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 only on time signature, finger patterns and bowing techniques, I knew that this piece afforded my students with an opportunity to learn so much more.”
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.”