is the Director and Associate Professor of Music Education in DePaul’s School of Music. She is also the Department Chair for Musical Studies.
What was your path into the world of music?
I started playing music in the fifth grade band. My family moved back to Pittsburgh, where I was originally from, and I went from a public school to a Catholic school that didn’t have the greatest music program.
I went to Vincentian High School in Pittsburgh. We didn’t have a band program or a music program. So I just made the most of what I could. The high school had a small folk group. I played flute in the folk group throughout high school and learned how to arrange, compose, and improvise. I was also taking private flute lessons with a good teacher. I was able to pass an audition to get into music school, and I went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. It was a big jump. During my first semester in college, my ensemble placement audition was so bad that they wouldn’t let me play in an ensemble. I had to sing in choir. But by the second semester, I was second chair flute.
I graduated and didn’t want to teach. I got a job managing a record store. I eventually got transferred and moved from Pittsburgh to the Chicago area. About a year after the move, I decided that I really needed to be teaching. I had started teaching private flute lessons at the time and got hired by the Diocese of Chicago. I was teaching in three different Catholic schools my first year. Then I got hired in a public district in Wheeling and taught there for ten years. I got my Master’s while I was teaching, got married, had kids. I decided to go back for my doctorate. I was fortunate enough to get accepted with a fellowship to Northwestern and got hired at DePaul. I like to think that St. Vincent was looking after me in some way, shape, or form to end up back with a Vincentian institution.
Could talk a little about the new School of Music building?
The new School of Music is stunning. I can honestly say the first time I walked into the Music Education classroom after it was done, I got teary-eyed. When I walk through the building, I find myself feeling really moved because it’s such a beautifully designed and built space. The attention to detail is unparalleled. Every room sounds good. The acoustics are just outstanding, and the entire facility represents DePaul’s identity.
I know that part of Father Holtschneider’s input on this building was to be an open, welcoming space. The building doesn’t have one separate student lounge. Instead, there are spaces throughout the entire facility for students to sit and congregate.
The entrance opens onto Halsted. The design invites people to walk through the building to get onto campus. Even the open gate at the corner of Fullerton and Halsted is designed to funnel people our way. That’s what I love about it. I’m hoping that we see students who aren’t just in the School of Music wandering in and looking around and enjoying it because it is so open and inviting and warm.
The building is very accessible, and that’s who we want to be as a School of Music. We want people to come to our performances and feel that they can be a part of the vibe. I cannot wait for everyone to enjoy the new building!
What is the current state of music education in the country?
We are definitely in a time of transition when it comes to music education. 98% of all public school students, kindergarten through fifth grade, have general music. People think that it isn’t as common today, but it is. The state of general music, meaning more of the elementary experience, is very healthy, and very valued.
You get to middle school, and that participation number starts to drop. Some recent studies estimate that only 20 - 24% of public high school students participate in music, and the majority of those students are in traditional band, orchestra, or choir.
So we’re finding ourselves as a profession at a crossroads. Some people are suggesting that we keep doing what we have been doing because we do it really, really well. And we do. We do band, orchestra, and choir better than anybody else in the world. And then other people want to examine the changes, and figure out different ways of getting students engaged in high school because the traditional outlets can be very limiting.
We are seeing a transition in high schools. Whitney Young High School here in Chicago, for example, has an amazing rock guitar program with a large enrollment. York High School in Elmhurst has an extensive recording studio. We are seeing a rise in more vernacular music areas. Popular and folk music classes are also growing in high school settings. Composition classes. Music technology classes.
We're really trying to push the envelope a little bit, and that’s what we focus on here in our program. We’re going to make sure that our graduates are prepared to teach band, orchestra, and choir. But they will also be prepared to teach rock band, or a technology class so that our graduates can reach more students in their schools.
What are some of the benefits of teaching music in Chicago?
The tagline, “Chicago is our classroom,” really is so true for the School of Music. More students used to major in Music Education than in Performance. We have shifted to a Performance School to the point where we can compete with the big music schools, and it’s because we’re in Chicago. We have excellent access to the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera. Many of their musicians make up our adjunct faculty. People have always come here for the quality of teachers, and now this new facility enables us to have an even bigger draw.
We also have a year-long practicum program and a partnership with Jahn Elementary School on Belmont and Wolcott. After five weeks of learning general music methods here with me, our music education students teach at Jahn for the rest of the year. They are each assigned a classroom. They do a performance at the end of the year. Even if they want to be high school orchestra directors, they have to do the elementary general practicum. And it gives the students at Jahn Elementary the opportunity to engage more in music. They have a new music teacher there who is actually one of our alums and went through the program.
What makes teaching music at DePaul special for you?
I went to Vincentian High School. Starting in eighth grade I was in a Catholic school with Vincentian sisters. My mother went to Vincentian High School, so we grew up as a family with a social justice perspective. My whole K-12 teaching career has been with underserved populations, largely immigrant, second language populations. I find so much satisfaction and purpose in that work.
Music can be seen as very elitist to some people, especially in a university setting. I believe that it’s not. I also believe that it’s important to give equal access across all areas of inquiry. That’s what keeps me at DePaul. That’s what makes me feel like I’m home at this university. I love what we do here in the music school, but I also love what the university does at large. I love the mission, and I feel supported when I want to take a group of my students to Englewood to teach. I love that I can work with a whole new generation of music teachers who have started looking at teaching music as being something more than just band, orchestra, or choir. I think we foster a sense of community, and it goes across the campus. Those kinds of things create this sense of family and community that then fosters academic inquiry, learning, and engagement.
What is different about your music students today compared to previous generations?
What I see with the Performance students is this understanding that they can’t rely as much on the traditional ways of making a living through music. It’s a time to look at new avenues. We see students who have this entrepreneurial spirit and who really want to make a living as a performer, but they’re not just going to rely on a job in an orchestra. They’re going to figure out other ways of succeeding, be it creating their own ensembles, creating chamber groups, or other avenues. We have a graduate violinist who works with Chance the Rapper and performs with him. I have a Music Education student who is also a trumpet player who plays in a hip hop band and travels all over. We’re seeing this shift. Yes, our students still want to play Bach, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Mozart. But they also want to bring their talents into other kinds of music and see where else they can take their profession. That’s been a newer development on the Performance side.
In the Music Education department, I see students being so much more aware of inequity and issues of social justice within music classrooms. They are developing that sense of inquiry that’s enabling them to step back, question, and take ownership instead of just replicating what has been taught before. We can see that social justice shift in our Performance students as well. They want to know where they can go where musicians typically don’t go. Where else can we take music? Who can we highlight?
We had a student who recently graduated do a recital in Boys Town called Playing Out. The recital focused on pieces of music written by openly LGBTQ composers. We are seeing more and more of that. Students going out and focusing on women composers or composers of color, and looking at people who were marginalized because of their race, gender, or sexuality. By highlighting them, our students are saying that this music is just as good, it’s just not known because it’s not done by a traditional composer. It’s been really interesting to watch that shift within our student body towards a desire to open up more, explore and question. It’s good critical and creative questioning.
"Internationally acclaimed performers, including violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, soprano Ana María Martínez, trumpet master Nicholas Payton, solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, will headline an 11-day music festival this November to celebrate the School of Music's new Holtschneider Performance Center.”