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Letter to Myself: Marcia Neel

Marcia Neel is Senior Director of Education for Yamaha Corporation of America and Yamaha Master Educator

She is president of Music Education Consultants Inc., and serves as the education advisor to the Music Achievement Council. Below, she writes a letter to her younger self about the joys of music education. 


Dear Younger Marcia:

Congratulations on getting your Music Education degree! You’re excited to get out there and realize your dream of becoming the next great American conductor like Robert Shaw, but before you begin polishing your conducting chops, I’d love to share some thoughts with you to keep in mind along the way.

First and foremost, you will hear that teaching is “not all about you,” but it is! The most accom­plished directors always bring their best to each and every rehearsal. They are always prepared, energized, inspired and seem to create situations that bring out the best in everyone around them. They continually serve as students of the art form and role models to be emulated by their students. It is through this continuous search for excellence that you will realize your true purpose — serving others.

Marcia Neel high-fiving someone at the 2018 NAMM Fly-inYou will also be responsible for teaching parents, colleagues, administrators, superintendents, school board members, politicians and the community in general. The constituents in your sphere of influence must understand the enormous benefits to music making, so start paying close attention to the research and spread the word. Embody this principle and live it to the fullest as it will serve you well throughout your entire career.

Spend time reflecting on why you are teaching music. You’ll go through phases. The dream of becoming Robert Shaw will eventually fade, and you will realize your true calling — helping young people discover the joy of collaborative music making and the sense of fulfillment, purpose and love that come with that. You’ll realize that music is the vessel for teaching about life and how so much can be accomplished when we choose to work together to achieve something special — something larger than the sum of its parts.

A few cautionary thoughts on how to deal with some challenging issues you’ll face:

  • Some people will not be as happy and fulfilled as you are, and they don’t choose to be. You will not be able to do anything about them. Move on!
  • If you get into trouble, whether it’s difficulty in choosing the right piece for your ensemble or the time you burned a 25-foot-long black gouge into the high school’s gym floor (yikes!), reach out and tell someone who can help you as soon as possible. Call a colleague or sit down with your supervising administrator. There will always be someone who can help, but you have to reach out to them.
  • Be a good listener. Hear what is being said between the words. You’ll perceive so much more this way.
  • You will change lives through what you say and do, so choose your words and deeds carefully.
  • Don’t take shortcuts. You’ll miss too much of the scenery along the way.
  • Family always comes first, so make time to watch your little ones grow. Family time will be your greatest joy.

One final word — artistic discovery is what working with young people is all about. No matter their age group, your students deserve credit for being able to achieve more than you think they can. If you believe in them, they definitely will exceed your expectations!

I’m so excited for you! Go out and change the world!


Marcia in 2020


SupportED 2020v5n1 with Mike BlockThis article originally appeared in the 2020N1 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here