Monday, January 2, 2017

Teacher stories 4: spreading the fun of music

Today's teacher story features Mary Kate Ells, the orchestra teacher at Huth Road Elementary School in Grand Island, New York. This is the fourth story in my series about teachers, their work, the things that they share with their students, and the things that bring them joy. 

What made you decide to be a music teacher?

I played music since I was four. My first instrument was piano, and I started playing the violin when I was in fourth grade. When I was in college, I wanted to go into international relations. In college, I was a counselor at a string camp; I taught film tunes and orchestra music to middle schoolers. That’s when I switched and decided to be a music teacher. I’m currently getting my masters in violin performance.

Tell me about your experience as a music teacher.

I love being a music teacher. I like the joy of spreading the fun of music and the discipline of music to my students at any age. They start at fourth grade, age nine or ten.  There is a community aspect to music. Even from an early age, they can play for friends and family. They get to play happy birthday, Christmas songs, and other songs for their families.  They can spread their music on in their regular lives, so it’s out of the classroom.

What does music do for your students?

They feel accomplished. You teach them the basics, and they grow as people. Their confidence just spirals. We are lucky to see that part of them.

The orchestra is all fifth graders, and this is their second year of playing. I have two orchestras. One has both fourth graders and the fifth graders. We meet twice a week and rehearse for our concerts and assemblies throughout the year. The assemblies are gifts that we give to our fellow school members. For our holiday assembly, we played holiday tunes, including “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” This is how they learn to play together and individually, too, but mostly as a group.

What does playing together as a group do for the students?

I think that it gives them a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that you can get in a classroom but not in the same way. That tends to build really great friendships and social relationships. With today’s technology, everything is pretty much instantaneous, and it’s very easy to get almost anything that you want right. With music, you can’t do that. You have to work to make music but, also when you accomplish that, you can’t have that taken away. That is yours. You’ve done it, and you own it. 

How can parents support their kids as music students?

Parents are really integral to the students learning music, if only to be patient while they learn. The students can’t really succeed as well without the support of their parents. Success stems from support from the home, so we are grateful for everything that the parents do. Music is a discipline. The fun does come after hard work. If you have an innate desire to practice, that is awesome, but it does come with hard work.

Tell me about your own relationship with music.

I love classical and chamber music. Quartets and trios. I also like fiddle tunes. I have tried bluegrass a few times. My favorite composers are Ludwig Van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Antonin Dvorak, all great classical composers. 


Mayura Amarkant said...

I really like this series. It would be interesting if I could even view some videos played by the lady. Her views on parents supporting their child's musical talents are applause-worthy. Looking forward to reading more posts from you as part of the #UBC.

Do take a look at my post for Day Two and let me know what you think. Here is the link:

cleansedpalate said...

Beautiful story! So nice to read about people passionate about their life's work!!

bethany said...

It great to highlight teachers! They often don't get the appreciation they deserve. Mrs. Ells is a wonderful teacher and goes the extra mile to encourage her students! we love her.