Musical Life History
I was born and raised in a large family in urban St. Louis, Missouri. In my neighborhood, it was rare for families to have both parents in a household, especially with 6 children and a shortage of money, but somehow we managed. With my father providing the only source of income, we were limited leisure outings, but it allowed us to grow as a family. One of our favorite pastimes was going to church. We practically grew up in the church; it is also where I had my first encounter with music. My family made up a vast majority of the church choir. It included all of my siblings, my cousins and my mom played the piano.
Going to the same grade school as all of my older siblings, I was seen as merely an extension of the McGee name, rarely as myself. In order to come out of their shadows, I attended a different middle school, a visual and performing arts magnet school, with concentrations in mass media and dance. Unfortunately, when I came home on the first day of class with the list of required equipment for my dance class, I was told my family could not afford it. When I told the dance teacher the next day, she recommended that I use the school’s supply of hand me downs. Although I loved to dance, I refused to be known as the poor girl in the class, which led me to the counselor’s office for a change of art slip. On the line denoted “area changing to” I wrote art.
In a scheduling mishap, I was placed in the wrong class, the harp class. I had never played an instrument or understood a sheet of music but I decided that if I happened to like it, I would stay in the class. I was anxious as I stepped foot in the classroom but within my first few steps, I was greeted by the familiar faces of some of my grade school friends. Naively, I believed that just the presence of these friends would be my reason for staying in the class, but the first time I sat down and plucked the strings, the sound of the angelic instrument enticed me. The sharpness of the strings and the clanging of the lower, metal wires when I changed the pedals were things I noticed I liked when I tried the various ways to play the harp. Thus began my journey learning the harp through a public school music program.
I cannot recall what caused my initial desire to want to become a music educator. I didn't have a teacher that instilled such a passion for music and teaching that I decided that music education was the career for me, nor did I have a burning desire to emulate Julie Andrews’ performance in the Sound of Music in real life. I have, however, always had a fascination with the arts. A turning point, I believe in me choosing this career path occurred when the MTV television show “Taking the Stage” debuted during my junior year of high school. This show documented the lives of high school students at an elite performing arts school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Seeing the artistic abilities of students that were my age but extremely more talented made me desire more from myself and my peers. I believed that we could be just as brilliant if not better than the students on the show if we had the right drive and opportunities they had.
Fortunately, a new principal was hired my senior year of high school. This principal came in making some well needed changes. However, she had never participated in the arts so she could not see the real need for reform in the arts curriculum and greater expectations of the students. Still, another thing that prompted my interest in music education specifically was the lack of attention the harp program in my high school received. The program was very small and most people didn't even know it existed despite how talented the students were. I believed that the harp program should have been one of the highlighted programs in the school not only because of its rarity but also because of the quality of harpists produced from the program. Although at the time I could not fathom the responsibilities of being a new principal, I saw myself to be the only principal fit for my high school. After doing research I found out that I had to become a teacher before I could be a principal, therefore I enrolled in the music education program at Ball State University.
Simply following the steps to becoming a principal was not enough to sustain my participation in the music education program. During my internship with the American Youth Harp Ensemble in the summer of 2012, being a music education major gained greater purpose when I had the opportunity to teach the harp to urban students at a Boys and Girls Club. One of my privileges as an intern with the AYHE was to shadow different instructors and observe their teaching styles and practices when they taught the AYHE and its outreach programs. On this particular occasion however, the person I was shadowing asked me to help a student while she taught another. I had never seen this student before and based off of her unruly behavior when she entered the room, I had already had preconceptions of what this teaching experience would be like. Rightly so, when I sat down with her, I had to review the names of the notes, what the colored strings were and counting.
Teaching Kayla was challenging not because she didn't have much musical knowledge, (fortunately she picked up quickly) but because she lacked self-efficacy. If I asked her to perform a task, she would almost immediately say she couldn't do it as if I wouldn't be there to help her. Naturally being the encourager I am I convinced her that she could do it. Through modeling and guided practice, she gained more confidence as the lesson progressed. This experience helped me realize a trend I see often in urban students and caused me to want to be the motivating change in those students’ lives through the medium of harp. By the end of the session, Kayla was playing not only to the level of her peers who attended the class regularly, but she was able to begin working on more advanced pieces. Although teaching Kayla was more than I expected, it was greatly rewarding. Through teaching this one student, I realized my passion to impact the lives of many less fortunate students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to hear a harp live or play one.
My college experience has been a major factor in my preparation to being an educator. Through my educational studies, I have been engaged in the music instruction method of comprehensive musicianship, in which students learn about music by applying musical concepts to their playing. As a result of my instrumental techniques classes, I have learned to play the instruments of the band, orchestra and general music settings. I am also taking private violin lessons to supplement the skills I learned in my string techniques class. My extensive experience with the harp has given me a unique advantage when it comes to being familiar with different musical instruments. Additionally, my harp pedagogy class has allowed me to experience different methods of teaching and evaluating instructional materials. In this class, I also had the opportunity to teach a fellow college student to play the harp. This student became so proficient in the short period that I taught her that she has continued her harp education with my harp professor and become a harp minor. Outside experience that has also contributed to my preparation as a music educator includes my 2 summers as an intern with the American Youth Harp Ensemble and my stint as a camp counselor at Rocky Mountain Springs Harp Program.