Making Music, Working on the Soul

Whether in local schools, arts organizations, or abroad, young people around the world are being taught by dedicated and creative pedagogues who have studied music education at SMTD. Here, we highlight a small group of music educators who are making a difference in their field. Each received teaching certification when they obtained their undergraduate degrees.

Kathryn Graham, BM ’12 (voice), is the vocal and core music teacher for K-5 students at P.S 691, a public school located in the Bronx, NY. “I have the freedom to create my own curriculum,” said Graham. “I utilize student input and gather inspiration from the diverse musical community in the Bronx.” In 2015, Graham co-founded an after-school musical theatre program called The Rising Stars. “The 60-student cast, which included 2nd-to-5th-graders, performed Disney’s Aladdin. And this year the program is producing two musicals,” she said. Graham’s career started at the Manhattan School of Music as a box office associate, a logical next step on the arts administration path she had pursued at SMTD. In October 2013, the death of her father served as a catalyst to pivot her career into the world of teaching. “I realized life was too short, and even though I was terrified of becoming a teacher, I knew I had to try it before it was too late,” she said. “I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing-I get to make music with amazing, brilliant, and talented young people everyday!”


Blending experience and knowledge from both a performance and education standpoint, Drew Smith, BM ’11 (voice), stepped into his arts administration career at Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC) with a solid foundation. “One of the more eye-opening things I’ve learned by working at Lyric has been the role that arts organizations play in supporting and providing arts education in schools,” he said. Smith serves as the education coordinator at LOC, where he administers their education programs. Part of his job includes overseeing backstage tours for students, as well as handling logistics and administration for LOC’s touring opera program for elementary school students. “In Chicago, some schools have minimal to no arts instruction,” he said. “The lack of involvement in the arts can often have a major impact not only on the instruction at the school, but the school culture.” Smith’s goal as an educator is to introduce students to opera and demystify an art form that can seem foreign to them. “Hopefully we spark an interest in students,” he said. “Opera has the unique distinction of being a combination of all the arts, and that provides such a wealth of possibility to create connections for students.”


“As a music educator, my goal is to expose the creation of music-to show that everyone is a musician, ” said Andrew McGuire, BM ’08, MM ’12 (music education), a music teacher at Sullivan High School, a Chicago public school. “I’ve been given the autonomy to create an ensemble music program where one didn’t exist before.” McGuire started Chicago public school’s first modern band course, where students learned to perform in rock bands. “We also started a beginning choir, which performed some standard choral repertoire alongside modern songs,” he said. “Now, I’m the beginning marching band, rock band, and choir director.” McGuire is honored to represent Sullivan High abroad as the international exchange coordinator for their sister school in Hamburg, Germany, where they travel every other year to perform. McGuire tries to reach outside his own comfort zone to help access his students’ musical needs. “The inequity of access to in-school music education has been the most shocking image to move past,” he said. “Fostering a space and place where students can create in groups, ensembles, combos, or solos has been the greatest tool in cultivating a culture that encourages musical play.”


As the first full-time music teacher at Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School in New York City, the city’s first tuition-free, single-sex public charter school, Kathleen Bowling, BM ’06 (flute), believes that music education should be an important part of every child’s school day. “To borrow a phrase from John Feierabend, I want my students to become ‘tuneful, beautiful, artful people,'” she said. Before starting the music program at Girls Prep, Bowling was a founding teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn and also taught instrumental music at a Harlem middle school. “It is so important that music education is a regular part of every child’s school day,” she said. “I have many students that might struggle in reading or math, but in my class, they have one place where they can shine.” Bowling credits her time at SMTD, especially her studies with Professor Colleen Conway, as being an integral part of her success as an educator. “Dr. Conway helped me discover the incredible musicianship that is waiting to be uncovered in even the youngest students,” she said. “I like to call them random acts of musicianship, where my students feel successful and are glowing because of what they’ve achieved.”


Joel Schut, BM ’09 (violin and music education), strives to be an agent of artistic experience. He serves as orchestra director at Okemos (MI) High School, assists his colleague in running a high school program of more than 180 students, and coordinates an international exchange program with a sister school in Germany. Schut has taught at music camps in Tunisia, Honduras, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, and at the Myanmar Music Festival. Most recently he was a graduate of the YOA Orchestra of the Americas Global Leaders Fellowship program, connecting innovators in youth orchestra education throughout the Americas. His time at SMTD was “transformational” as it linked his strong passions for performance and music education. “Music education faculty, such as Bob Culver and Colleen Conway, actively taught teaching as a performing art, while performance faculty, such as Yehonatan Berick, taught us to value the pedagogical foundations of skill development,” he said. “To me, the ensemble experience is the perfect vehicle for learning how to work hard, celebrate long-term growth, experience risk and reward, and, most importantly, learn how to collaborate-through teaching all the important things, we make music and work on the soul.”


By Brandon Monzon, communications generalist and assistant editor of Michigan Muse.