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Teacher of the Week

On a daily basis, I am blown away by the work of educators the world over. Not only am I lucky enough to have crossed paths with inspirational teachers throughout my life but many of you share your stories of incredible people you’ve had the joy of encountering – people who are changing the world one student at a time. Every Thursday, I will share a new “Teacher of the Week” and invite you to submit your nominations.

Your Nominations

Professor Angela Tipps

Professor Tipps is the director of the Middle Tennessee State University Women’s Chorale, and not only has she grown the ensemble from 20 women to over 70 in a few years, she has also taken us to perform at TMEA, ACDA, and at high school’s all around middle Tennessee. She has changed all of our lives for the better and without her my college experience would have been a very different one. She taught me how to love singing again, how to be so in sync with the people around me that it feels effortless. Professor Tipps is one of the crowning jewels at MTSU and she deserves as much recognition as possible for the tireless hours and endless love she pours into her students.

Dr. Susan Kelly

Dr. Susan Kelly is currently directing the Tennessee State University choirs; however, I first encountered Sue as my high school director in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania at Abington Heights High School. Nearly every one of her students could attest to her startling dedication, her striking ability to connect to her students, and her limitless openness and kindness. Since meeting her and studying under her, she has inspired me to always move steadfastly in the direction I’m going. Many of my first leadership opportunities were granted by her and her program. She has pushed so many students in the right direction. Now, she is no longer my teacher, but rather a friend to ask advice of, or to share a quick laugh with.

Dr. Susan Kelly

Dr. Susan Kelly is currently the choir director for Tennessee State University’s choirs— and she built this program from the bottom up. I had the pleasure of singing for her in my small suburban high school— Abington Heights in Clarks Summit, PA. Susan Kelly brings 110% to everything she does, and she is a teacher who truly LOVES her students, caring more about the people they become than the grades on their papers. She has an endless sense of humor, and pushes students past their boundaries of fear and apprehension (which we’ve all encountered as singers!). More than a teacher, she was (and is) a dear friend and mentor. When I was having a rough time in high school, I used to eat lunch with her and a few other students in her classroom. She would offer advice, friendship, and company— her doors were open to anyone. She left PA for the opportunity to build and shape a choir program at TSU, leaving her home to join an entirely new culture, to bring music to those who needed it.

Parker Haley

Mr. Haley works so hard to let his kids know that they are loved and are important to him. There is never a day when he doesn’t great his class with a smile or an encouraging word. He has been a great mentor to me as a fellow teacher and checks in to make sure that I’m doing okay. And when I’m not, he will take as much time as he has to encourage and support me. This attitude is something that he brings into his classroom, making sure no students fall through the cracks, no matter how many of their other teachers may have given up on them.

Brent Whitaker

Brent Whitaker is conductor of a choir based in a highschool that is located in the middle of a cotton field – Southeast Bulloch High School. He takes teenagers who come from all backgrounds and shows them what it feels like to work hard for something and succeed. The most important lesson he teaches is character. He’s taught his students to work hard for the things they want, inside the music world and out, and because of this, our tiny farm town highschool consistently wins national competitions at the highest levels, and we are continuing to exceed expectations. No private lessons, and no full time voice instructors. We owe it all to Mr. Whitaker for everything he’s taught us. He believes in us despite all adversity, despite any setbacks, and he’s taught me that no matter where you come from, you can achieve the impossible.

Ms. Susanna Smit

Ms. Smit, Susy to her students, is a wonderful flute instructor and a positive role model for aspiring teachers. In her work at Carmel High School in Carmel, IN, and Greenfield-Central High School in Greenfield, IN, she’s touched the lives of not just flutists but entire woodwind sections with her eclectic personality, child-like humor, and ability to empathize with the struggles, concerns, and triumphs of the average high school woodwind instrumentalist. No one could replace her bubbly demeanor and engaging teaching, and the flute and woodwind sections of both Carmel and Greenfield-Central High School are forever grateful.

Jeremy Mims

Dr. Mims is a blessing! He helped me and other students in his choir classes become better singers and wonderful educators teaching in the field of music (choral or instrumental).

Mr. Chris Wing

As the band director and head of the music department at Greenfield-Central High School, Mr. Wing built a phenomenal marching band and a spectacular concert band program from the ground up. Starting with a horn line that totaled fewer members than the current woodwind section, he pushed through adversity, giving every member the knowledge they needed to thrive, and continues to strive, not for trophies or medals, but for improvement and exceptional performance individually and as a group. He will be the first to admit that if there are points available, he wants them all. However, his desire for the Greenfield-Central Cougar Pride Marching Band to be the best it possibly can overrides his competitive nature, and he implores us to focus on how we improved over how we placed.

Mr. Jeremy Basso

Our assistant band director, Mr. Basso, is one of the most vibrant, uplifting members of our music department here at Greenfield-Central High School in Greenfield, IN. Since his employment, he’s been a driving force in the marching, jazz, theory, and concert programs. He drives us forward, ensuring that every member of the band meets the potential he knows they have, takes the time to talk to as many people as he can, and helps up anyone who’s fallen down. His belief in everyone, the way he builds up people at their lowest points, and his drive to make everyone better are some of the brightest parts of our band program.

Amy Kurtz

Amy Kurtz is the director of all four choirs at Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County, MD. In the five short years she has been at Clarksburg, she has been able to expand and develop the choir program into a regionally-recognized program. Her passion for music is exceeded only by her passion for her students. She spends countless hours outside the school day helping her students in whatever way she can- with music for auditions, a ride home, life advice, etc. Amy has a tradition of making each of her seniors a small gift before their final concert, to help them remember their time in the program. Amy Kurtz is a ray of light in her classroom, her school, and the choral community.

Holly Bacha

Mrs. Bacha was the choir director at Spooner High School in the small City of Spooner, WI for too few of years. In the short amount of time she was teaching here she made choir humorous, rewarding, and just fun to be a part of, while still having the class be educational and serious at the same time. She even expanded the choral to allow for men’s choir and she pushed for the select choir to be able to go to new amazing events such as Carnage Hall in New York and leading them to best in site at state solo ensemble. Teaching aside she was a person that everyone could always trust for a good laugh or a comforting hug. She would be there for anyone who came to her no matter the situation she would always provide her best advice. Overall Mrs. Bacha is an amazing teacher and amazing person, anyone would be more than lucky to learn under her direction.

Sheri Holt

Mrs. Holt is a constant inspiration for our music department. She is full of life and makes music so much fun. She made me confident in myself when it came to singing in concert and being confident in my abilities. She pushes me to keep trying and going. Even though scheduling conflicts meant I couldn’t have class with her this year she still remains one of my all time favorite teachers.

Geoffrey Boers

He is a very talented vocal educator at the University of Washington. His method is incredibly musical and inspirational for all he teaches, he has a knack for getting high schoolers who say they can’t sing to sing. Also he’s my dad.

Eric Graham

He has helped me (and all his students from Marina High School and Arrowbear Music Camp) to gain the confidence needed to sing in a choir. I entered Arrowbear Music Camp going into 9th grade, and was terrified. Eric and the other directors help make it a very welcoming place for musicians of all skill levels. His dedication to helping students is one that can’t be surpassed by just anyone.

Mr. Joshua Shafer

This individual is nothing short of a miracle. Mr. Shafer has introduced an outstanding choir program at Liberty High School in Peoria, Arizona, which for many years had no choir program whatsoever. From 10 students to over 100 in the first year, he constantly reminds us of humble beginnings and powerful futures. He is truly an inspiration and will stop at nothing for his students or his passion. Music. We build families. We build cathedrals.

Angela Hampton

Angela Hampton is the choir director at Floyd Central High School. She had devoted an enormous amount of her time while teaching to make sure each one of her students is the best they can possibly be. She genuinely cares about the wellbeing of her many students, and sacrifices countless hours a day to help give them the opportunity to succeed.

Rita M. Stevens

Rita is a retired choral director in the Redlands Unified School District who built an award-winning choral program and has worked with Eric Whitacre professionally. She is currently a home hospital teacher with the district and provides teaching services to those students who are too ill to attend school in the regular classroom. In addition to her prior choral success with students, she is now assisting students who are quite ill at home or in the hospital with their studies so they do not fall behind. She is a remarkable, inspiring educator in our local community of Redlands, California.

Michael Kirk Cundari

Mr. Cundari has been the director at Palm Desert High for 3 years, and has had extensive experience prior to this school. He is a phenomenal choir teacher and guide who always brings an abundance of enthusiasm and eagerness to class every day. My love for music has grown exponentially since I’ve been a student of his, and he has helped me realize that music is more than a concept – it is a universal language that has the ability to change a person’s life through its sheer brilliance and ethereal sound. There is no greater joy than being taught by this man, and I cherish every moment I spend under his guidance because he has made me a better musician and has given me a newfound appreciation for the unmatchable experience that is the world of music.

Dr. Joey Martin

Dr. Joey Martin’s dedication to our program at Texas State is unrelenting, and he not only pushes us to strive toward our best musical selves, but provides us with plenty of loving space to grow as human beings.

Leia Browning

As not only a single mom with two children but a full time teacher as well, she brings joy and energy into the class room even if all of us are feeling down. she encourages us to do our best then takes that and pushes us harder than any choir teacher I’ve ever had. Yet even as she pushes our singing she always makes sure that our health and comes first. We are a family and we treat each other like it.

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Nominate a Teacher

All Honorees

Claudio Silvestri

Claudio Silvestri

“Everyone is able to sing, there aren’t out of tune people”. – Claudio Silvestri

It’s been a privilege to read the stories of all those who contributed to nominated Maestro Silvestri.

Thank you, Claudio, for changing the world one student at a time.

Russ Otte (U.S.A.)

Thank you to Peter Hollens for nominating his high school choir teacher, Russ Otte.

Amanda Hanzlik (U.S.A.)

Amanda Hanzlik (U.S.A.)

With an incredible 9 nominations received this week, Amanda Hanzlik – you are our Teacher of the Week.

Thank you for changing the world, one student at a time.

Gary Langford (U.S.A.)

Gary Langford (U.S.A.)

For more than 40 years Gary Langford has dedicated his life to music and music education. He was my trumpet and jazz professor when I was a freshman at the University of Florida and through the years he has given so much to so many, in music and just by being a wonderful mentor and human. It was Gary’s honesty that convinced me to change my major from trumpet performance to journalism, and he always was straightforward and kind in his feedback and advice. I went on to have a successful 30-year career as a journalist but never stopped playing or loving the trumpet, jazz and music because of Gary’s undying enthusiasm and spirit. Ask anyone who has met him and they will say the same. Gary is an inspiration to all.

Steve Durtschi (U.S.A.)

Steve Durtschi (U.S.A.)

Steve Durtschi is one of the hardest working teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. His dedication to his students and the art of Choral conducting is unparalleled. During my time working with Steve Durtschi I learned so much about musicality and appreciation for the benefit of hard work. Steve Durtschi has been teaching all Choral and AP Music Theory classes at Timpanogos High School since 2010. During his time there his choirs have achieved the highest ranks possible at festivals they’ve participated in.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Steve.

Thank you Kris for the nomination.

Michelle Shmuel (U.S.A.)

Michelle Shmuel (U.S.A.)

While Michelle is clearly an outstanding professional, mentor, musician and teacher, I believe she should be viewed foremost as an outstanding leader. After years of setting the standard as a “young” teacher, Michelle has now transitioned to a “seasoned veteran” who leads by example on a daily basis for not only her students but co-workers as well. Michelle’s unwavering approach to her daily tasks as an educator is a beacon of professionalism for all to see. She truly displays the philosophy that she is teaching young adults how to be better human beings through singing, as opposed to simply becoming a good musician. She runs three choirs, as well as numerous smaller chamber groups with over 200 students enrolled. It does not matter what level of performer you are, if you are willing to put the work in, she is willing to give her time to teach you. Truly inspirational!

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Michelle.

Thank you Chad for the nomination.

Emmanuella Mazile (U.S.A.)

Emmanuella Mazile (U.S.A.)

Emmanuella Mazile teaches choir at Lowell Scott Middle School. She’s only in her second year of teaching and has already made such a difference in their music program and in the lives of her students. Her kids come to class excited to learn because she engages them with respect, humor, and love. They’re not just learning songs in Miss Mazile’s class; they’re learning how to be musicians. Parents, teachers, and students alike recognize how beautifully–and quickly–she’s transformed an “easy A” choir class into a high-quality music education. Emmanuella is an incredible, natural teacher and advocate for kids who are often navigating a tumultuous period of their lives. I met Emmanuella in college while we were both studying music. I’m so immensely proud of her and thankful to call her my best friend; she’s a daily source of inspiration for me and I’m absolutely thrilled for all of the students in the years to come who will get to learn music from Miss Mazile.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Emmanuella.

Thank you Aubrey for the nomination.

Richard Medrano (U.S.A.)

Richard Medrano (U.S.A.)

With his open heart and musicality, Rich has given back to the community. He conducts with the City of Angels Community Choirs in Granada Hills, CA. This community choir includes the Master Chorale, as well as Children’s Choir. His empathy and open arms invite you to join not only a group of singers, but a family – a humble family that creates wonderful music for the community. Rich has given the choir the opportunity to go Christmas caroling at a local hospital each year in December. He has also dedicated a concert for the children and has raised money for children’s scholarships. Rich has dedicated engraved hand bells of those who lost their lives in Sandy Hook.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Richard.

Thank you April for the nomination.

Sheena Graham (U.S.A.)

Sheena Graham (U.S.A.)

Sheena is an outstanding choral educator, who’s breathed new life and meaning to students in Bridgeport CT’s inner city high school. After years of budget cuts, music is back: “On Friday mornings, students are serenaded by musical performances as they cue up to go through metal detectors. As people are coming in, security guards are bopping to the music as they check bags.” Sheena has just been awarded Connecticut Teacher of the Year for 2019.

Thank you, Sheena, for changing the world one student at a time.

Mrs. Ruby Robertson-Knox (U.S.A.)

Mrs. Ruby Robertson-Knox (U.S.A.)

Mrs. Ruby Robertson-Knox, Music Director at Oak Knoll School, has been a part of the music world from her childhood, later studying at Baylor U, and teaching for 40+ years. She fosters a special choral community of singers from grades 7-12, a drama troop, full musical, masses, and two chamber choirs. Service is also one of the biggest aspects of OKS and Ms. Knox’s philosophy. Ms. Knox teaches us to be grateful for our school, one another, and music. She is passionate for the arts and knows the powers of choral music to heal and make community. Music brings her happiness and joy, thus bringing it to students. She aims to better us and implores students, who she calls her children, to be passionate about their dreams. Ms. Knox’s talents are countless: a stunning singer, pianist, and conductor who conducts from the piano bench, never missing a cue while playing beautifully. She is there for all of us. Her light is felt by all. “Ruby” is truly a valuable gem and shining star.

Thank you Ruby, for changing the world one student at a time.

Janwin Overstreet-Goode (U.S.A.)

Janwin Overstreet-Goode (U.S.A.)

I met Janwin at TMEA earlier this year and was blown away by the connection that she had with so many former-students across the time we spent together. It’s not a surprise that she’s been honored with the FISD “Making a Difference” Award and the Outstanding Music Educator Award from the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

Janwin – thank you for changing the world, one student at a time.

Dr. Robert Spence (U.S.A.)

Dr. Robert Spence (U.S.A.)

Dr. Spence is an associate professor of music at Elizabethtown College, as well as the director of instrumental studies. He conducts the Symphonic Band and the College-Community Orchestra. In 2017, he was awarded the Kreider Teaching Prize, which is given annually to an outstanding educator at the college. I had Dr. Spence in class during every semester of my college career. He is the prime example of a deeply caring and passionate educator. During his classes, his manner of speaking creates the feeling that he is speaking to each student individually, rather than addressing the group as a whole. He can often be found in his office, essentially giving private lessons to students from his instrumental methods classes. And to top it off, his dry humor is unmatched. Perhaps my favorite memory is his recent comment on my Facebook post, informing friends and family that I accepted a full-time teaching job: “Thank you for your contributions to my future Social Security checks…”

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Robert.

Thank you Abby for the nomination.

Sandra Chandler (U.S.A.)

Sandra Chandler (U.S.A.)

I would love to recommend Ms. Sandra Chandler, choral teacher and director at Alexander High School, Douglasville, Georgia for this honor. She is a splendid teacher, award winning in her district, and greatly loved by her students. She is a prime example of what ACDA stands for.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Sandra.

Thank you Tim Sharp, Executive Director of ACDA, for the nomination.

Dr. Charissa Chiaravalloti (U.S.A.)

Dr. Charissa Chiaravalloti (U.S.A.)

Dr. Chiaravalloti is the Director of Choral Activities at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Dr. C, as we call her, is one of those teachers that changes your life. She’s the standard by which you hold all other teachers, even though you know you’re never going to have a director quite like her again. She loves and cherishes music, but she loves and values her students even more. Dr. C supports each and every one of her students, and helps us to grow not only as musicians, but as confident, competent human beings. No teacher has ever changed my life quite the way Dr. C has.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Charissa.

Thank you Allie for the nomination.

Gregg Breinberg (U.S.A.)

Gregg Breinberg (U.S.A.)

It was my honor to meet and work with Gregg Breinberg “Mr. B” and the incredible choir, PS22, (from Public School 22, Graniteville, Staten Island, New York) in 2000. Their continued success must surely come from Gregg’s vision, integrity, passion and dedication to young people and music. Each year he auditions children from 10 years old to join PS22 from the school’s wide cross-section of ethnic groups and socio-economic levels, encouraging them to sing as one and express themselves through music. The emotion is palpable, both listening to them and watching them. Mr. B and PS22 have had truly massive success on YouTube, appeared at the Oscars, the White House, on the Oprah Winfrey Show and with Katy Perry and more. Crucially, this team of engaging super-talented young people rehearse twice a week in term-time and sing at school and local events. Mr. B, you are an incredible force for good in an area that continues to face huge challenges.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Gregg.

George Hattingh Jr (South Africa)

George Hattingh Jr (South Africa)

George Hattingh Jr has been a big part in making the dreams of thousands of aspiring sound engineers, including myself, come to life. He is a lecturer and a director at the Academy of Sound Engineering in Auckland Park, South Africa. He is a mentor to me and one of my biggest role models.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you George.

Thank you Ethan for the nomination.

Mr. Chris Wing (U.S.A.)

Mr. Chris Wing (U.S.A.)

As the band director and head of the music department at Greenfield-Central High School, Mr. Wing built a phenomenal marching band and a spectacular concert band program from the ground up. Starting with a horn line that totaled fewer members than the current woodwind section, he pushed through adversity, giving every member the knowledge they needed to thrive, and continues to strive, not for trophies or medals, but for improvement and exceptional performance individually and as a group. He will be the first to admit that if there are points available, he wants them all. However, his desire for the Greenfield-Central Cougar Pride Marching Band to be the best it possibly can overrides his competitive nature, and he implores us to focus on how we improved over how we placed.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Chris.

Thank you Elysabeth for the nomination.

Dr. Angela Broeker (U.S.A.)

Dr. Angela Broeker (U.S.A.)

Dr. Broeker is the most loving and generous human being and an incredible Choral music educator. She teaches with such kindness, empathy and grace and is an inspiration to all of the students she comes into contact with. After two weeks of graduate conducting this summer, she gently reminded our class “You are enough. As you already are, you are enough.” Her belief in each of her students is so encouraging…and she is a brilliant musician to boot!

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Angela.

Thank you Coleen for the nomination.

Dr. Cara Tasher (U.S.A.)

Dr. Cara Tasher (U.S.A.)

Dr. Cara Tasher, the brilliant Director of Choral Studies at the University of North Florida, has a tradition with her choir called “hot seat.” (That’s Dr. Tasher in the photo, second from left). She and her singers sit in a large circle surrounding a single empty chair. One by one a student comes to the center of the circle, sits down, and closes their eyes. As soon as they sit the people surrounding them gently bombard them with positive adjectives about their character. “Funny.” “Gracious.” “Generous.” “Confident.” “Beautiful.”

The person in the center can’t go anywhere – they must sit and listen to their friends and colleagues sending wave after wave of positive, specific reinforcement describing who they are and what they mean to the tribe. The overall effect was gorgeous, uplifting and deeply human, and as I tearfully told them afterwards in the middle of a big group hug, “This is the most choir thing EVER.”

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Cara.