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2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra

Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra

Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education
Seton Hill University
Greensburg, Pennsylvania

When Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra started her undergraduate degree in music education at Duquesne University in 2002, she envisioned teaching beginning instrumentalists for her whole career. As she journeyed into music teacher education, her view changed. She is now the Coordinator of Music Education and Associate Professor of Music at Seton Hill University where she oversees music teacher licensure and degree completion. She also coordinates fieldwork placements, student teaching internships and music teacher education curriculum and content.

“Seeing undergraduate music education majors begin their journey into the profession, work their way through coursework and fieldwork where they explore teaching practices, and then evolve into novice music educators with excitement and interest in seeking more information is what I find most rewarding,” she says.

Though she doesn’t conduct ensembles as part of her teaching responsibilities, Vaughan-Marra hosts as many as 10 local vocal and instrumental ensembles at Seton Hill as an on-campus fieldwork and clinic opportunity for her students. “These ‘fieldwork Fridays’ help our music education majors by providing longer rehearsal time blocks for micro-teaching as well as opportunities to sit in with the ensembles performing on secondary instruments.,” she explains.

One of Vaughan-Marra’s goals with her transition into higher education was to expand her impact on the lives of student musicians. Prior to her Ph.D., she was a middle school band and orchestra director in the Silicon Valley of California. Through volunteer efforts and active membership in music education organizations, she has developed and maintained relationships with pre-K-12 music educators across the country, which “helps me stay connected to the classroom,” she says. She often invites colleagues and peers in the profession to present or work with her students at Seton Hill.

Students who graduate from Seton Hill’s music education program often represent the university motto of being “fit for the world.” According to Vaughan-Marra, “Our students are prepared for not only the music teaching experiences that parallel their education but also adaptability to the ever-evolving landscape of music education.

Vaughan-Marra co-authored a chapter (with Dr. Scott Edgar) about music teacher preparation for teaching beginning instrumental band ensembles in “The Oxford Handbook of Preservice Music Teacher Education.” She included proven practices and methods that she employed with her ensembles in the Cupertino Union School District.

“When working with large ensembles, I emphasized musicianship skill development, which moves beyond assessing the accuracy of student performances,” she explains. “Instead, engage students in opportunities to sing, move, chant and explore their aural and oral skill development through improvisation activities throughout rehearsals. Balancing between teaching technical skills and musicianship skills will result in the individual and collective motivation of the ensemble.”