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Guest Voices: Singing the Praises of Music in Our Schools

March 29th, 2022

In honor of March being Music in Our Schools Month, we caught up with three of HCPSS’ outstanding music educators: Jeoung (Jay) Kim, orchestra director, Lime Kiln Middle School and River Hill High School; Tiffany Walker, band director, Wilde Lake Middle School; and Alicia Wetmore, music teacher, Longfellow Elementary School. Below, they share their thoughts on the importance of music in our schools, what makes music in HCPSS unique, and provide some fun facts about their own musical interests.

Jay Kim conducts the RHHS orchestra.

What are some of the key skills/lessons you aim to teach your students?

Walker: I try to teach all of my students that all art is a form of complaint and communication. We channel the feelings of events, social change, natural disasters, and create something truly beautiful that heals us as a nation. All students should be kind and treat one another with respect regardless of differences. I also teach my students that they are the future agents of change in the world and that they should be the change that they would like to see.

Kim: Some of the emphasis in my daily lesson includes building teamwork, having ownership, and caring for one another. An orchestra is a big musical family, and I believe that it should be run with love, compassion, grace, and sacrifice, just as a family runs. There are five sections in the string orchestra: violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, and bass. When one section is experiencing a difficult time, the rest of the orchestra needs to be patient with them and help them in any way. That’s how we would absolutely do it with all our heart when one family member is having a problem. In addition, listening to one another with patience is another essential value that we strive to acquire together as a team.

Wetmore: I want my students to have strong teamwork and relationship skills after leaving my classroom. So much of group music-making requires verbal and nonverbal communication and interaction. Developing skills to perform and react as a group with a common goal will not only serve students in a musical setting, but also in a variety of other settings as they grow into adulthood. While I want all of my students to become lifelong musicians in some capacity, if I can’t get all of them there, I would at least like them to transfer skills they use as musicians to other endeavors they take on through adulthood.

WLMS band director Tiffany Walker works with a student playing percussion.

What are some of the unique musical experiences and opportunities that HCPSS students have available at the level at which you teach?

Walker: My unique musical experiences are monthly celebrations that align with diversity, equity and inclusion. I believe that when students see themselves represented in school, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and value in this world. Each month, I spotlight a different person of the day on the morning announcements through song, spoken word, instrumental excerpts and daily facts. This has opened opportunities for middle school students to ask questions and create meaningful connections with one another.

Kim: One of the great experiences I had from my 23 years of teaching in HCPSS is that I got to work with students that are culturally diverse, and it is my belief that cultural diversity is tied to musical diversity. As our students are exposed to different cultures, they become exposed to music of different cultures. This remarkable experience and opportunity is equivalent to how we are connected to people on the other side of the world via the internet.

One of two schools I currently teach at is River Hill High School. Over my five years there, I have had many opportunities to witness how much our high school students appreciate and enjoy the music elective classes that our school system offers. These are music classes that are different to our well-known band/orchestra/chorus ensembles; classes in which students learn piano, guitar, or music technology. These unique opportunities provide our students a sense of belonging and enrich their high school experience no end.

Wetmore: We are fortunate to have several programs within the county that allow elementary students in the general/vocal music programs to enrich their musical experiences. Students in grades 2-3 are invited to participate in the Cantus Chorus, and students in grades 4-5 are encouraged to audition to perform with the Lyric Chorus. These opportunities bring students from across the county together for music making. Additionally, at Longfellow Elementary School, we have worked to put on talent shows and musicals to showcase and enrich the musical experience of our students in all grades. This spring, many of our students will also take part in the Solo and Ensemble Festival, where they will prepare and perform a piece individually for a panel of adjudicators for feedback.

What do you enjoy most about teaching music in HCPSS?

Walker: I enjoy the community and closeness of the teachers in HCPSS, especially the music community. Each day, I look forward to being the example that I was looking for when I grew up in the county.

Kim: My music colleagues in HCPSS are very talented and experienced, and I feel privileged to work with them. They are also passionate about helping others. It is so wonderful to see that we share our different values and serve our students and community to the best of our abilities.

Wetmore: I have never been a part of such a supportive and knowledgeable music education community than here in Howard County. I have a “short list” of colleagues across the county that I can call, text, or e-mail with questions or ideas about upcoming units. It’s invaluable to be able to discuss and compare musical units with other teachers. I really believe it has made a huge positive impact on my students here as I am able to diversify repertoire and teacher ideas from speaking with other teachers who do what I do.

LOES music teacher Alicia Wetmore shows students how to use a drum.

Why do you feel it is important to teach music in our schools?

Walker: Music is the reflection of the past, present and future. It is important that we analyze how history has affected our interpretation of music in the world. I want to show students that you can be anything that you put your mind to, and that music can be the key to open the doors to your future through excellence and scholarship.

Kim: Music is everywhere and has a special place in our students’ lives. Psy, the well-known Korean singer who recorded “Gangnam Style,” said, “The world’s most famous and popular language is music.” As an orchestra teacher, it is important to teach the universal and musical language to our students who are going through a very important time of their lives.

Wetmore: I believe music is worth teaching for music’s sake – the joy and emotional fulfillment students can get from participating in a musical ensemble is often unmatched by any other experiences. Additionally, life skills such as working cooperatively, reflecting and adjusting, and perseverance are practiced every single time a student walks into a music classroom.

Fun Facts

Jeoung (Jay) Kim

Instrument(s) played: Violin

Favorite genre of music: Classical (late 19th century and early 20th century)/Pop/Tango

Favorite musical artist, band, or composer: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Berlin Philharmonic, Johannes Brahms

Favorite song/piece of music: Malher 5th Symphony, Beethoven 9th Symphony

Most recent musical concert attended: Baltimore Symphony & Howard County High School GT Side-by-Side Concert

Tiffany Walker

Instrument(s) played: Alto Saxophone, piano

Favorite genre of music: R&B/Soul

Favorite musical artist, band, or composer: Snarky Puppy & Janelle Monae

Favorite song/piece of music: Can’t Hide Love- Earth Wind and Fire

Most recent musical concert attended: Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Showcase

Alicia Wetmore

Instrument(s) played: Voice, piano, and clarinet

Favorite genre of music: In ALL honesty, I don’t have one. I usually pick a random radio station on the way home and listen to anything that comes on.

Favorite musical artist, band, or composer: Lady Gaga

Favorite song/piece of music: This Girl is on Fire – Alicia Keys

Most recent musical concert attended: Darius Rucker at Merriweather (yes, it makes me sad that was so long ago!)