music education

Everyday Artist Spotlight: Leslie Cannata Nance

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We are thrilled to introduce you to music educator extraordinaire, Leslie Cannata Nance! She is a multi-talented teacher and artist who has a genuine commitment to her students’ growth and development as musicians. Leslie has a deep, profound love for the arts and it’s evident in her work and performances. Check out her interview to learn more about the passion that drives her work as an educator and how arts education has impacted her life.

 

Why is your art important to you?

Seeing students be successful when they have otherwise not gotten the opportunity academically is my greatest achievement. Sharing my passion of music with others of all ages is not a “job,” but a joy. I absolutely love the subject I teach! I practice what I preach! My students know that I love what I do, and they know they have the opportunity to be successful like me because I share with them! I create relationships with every single student with whom I come in contact. 

  

What do you want your art to say?

Music is my life. I live and breathe music and performing – in any capacity. When I graduated from high school, I was faced with the decision of a) performing and making lots of money on Broadway or b) teaching the youth of America the importance of the performing arts. Obviously, I chose the latter. I have not regretted my decision to become a music educator one time! My students, ages 5 to 95, ALL know that I have a vested interested in them and want the best for them. I have worked with diverse school populations - at-risk students, high populations of impoverished families, special education – that require my constant attention to detail and a never-ending classroom based on relationship building.

 

What project are you working on now?

I am currently making the move from elementary music to secondary music - instrumental or vocal. I'm not quite sure what's in store for me in the near future, but I'm confident I will be the best!

 

Who is your favorite artist?

Oh, my goodness! There are too many to name and all for different reasons! To narrow it down to my top picks, though: 1. I absolutely love Bach and his attention to the musical elements in his compositions. 2. I'm a HUGE fan of The Who because of the lyrics and the drive in their sound. 3. Have any of you ever just spent time listening to The Red Hot Chili Peppers? I could go on FOR HOURS! 4. We would need to have drinks and brunch for 9 days about The Beatles.

 

How has arts education impacted your life?

How has it not? I live and breathe performance education. These children are our future, and I'm making that happen because of the interest my educators showed in me.

 

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Biography: 

Leslie Cannata Nance has been performing since she was a small child. With dedication and a lot of hard work, Leslie was given full scholarships to several universities to study music education. Leslie truly lives out her dream job every single day teaching children the love of music and performance. Leslie was hired before her college graduation in Pasadena Independent School District at Richey Elementary School as the Music Coordinator and Choral Director. Here, Leslie was awarded First Year Teacher of the Year. After a move to north Houston in 2009, she became the Music Coordinator and Choral Director at McFee Elementary School in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. At McFee, Leslie revolutionized the music department, as she was the third music teacher hired when the school had been opened for only two years. In May of 2018, Leslie accepted a position as music coordinator at Willbern Elementary School in CFISD.  In her first 3 months at this campus, she has implemented grade level performances and a choir, both of which were absent in years previous. Leslie gives every student in her classroom the opportunity to perform, as she feels this is one of the most important aspects of elementary music education. When Leslie is not teaching public school, she spends her time teaching private voice, piano, strings, and drama.

Leslie welcomes your questions and comments and has many resources she wants to share with you for free (including original musicals)! She can be contacted by email at leslie.nance@cfisd.net 

Punk Rock Changed My Life

by Josh Staub 

“Punk rock changed our lives.” Indeed. 

This quote from the Minutemen song History Lesson II, off their seminal double-record, Double Nickel on the Dime, could even be more poignant perhaps if D. Boon said, “punk rock saved our lives.” 

Growing up in Hanover, PA--in an area of the country known as Pennsyltucky for its excessive redneck population, where superstitious conservatism, incest, and drug abuse run rampant--it was clear we were all fucked. In the 70s and 80s, we watches as most of the major industries relocated to foreign countries, where slave labor could be utilized to make rich people richer and the folks of Hanover much poorer. Since then, many of the factories and warehouses around town have been left abandoned or converted into section-eight housing. Then there is the pervasive PA Dutch attitude, which can be summed up as Stoicism exaggerated to the point of stupidity and catatonia intermixed with staunch Christianity, zero-tolerance, narrow worldviews culminating in dangerous belief systems, that is, for anyone outside of the narrow consensus reality. Punk rock, for one, provided folks like myself--who find themselves outside this bogus consensus reality--reassurance that all belief systems, including this particular one that has been so harmful to me personally, are, to some extent, BS. Just make an acronym out of it, like Robert Anton Wilson, belief system = BS. So when the rigid social structure failed to indoctrinate and subjugate us rebellious youth and then attempted to paint us as fuck-ups and insane individuals, punk rock, along with art and literature, became a stop-gap. In fact, the punk ethos was able to deflect their attacks, illustrating how insane these people really were and how their BS was really legitimized madness. 

To me, music began and ended with Kurt Cobain. If you’re a fan of Kurt’s music, inevitably you’ve explored at least some of the indie bands he was constantly promoting--bands like the Raincoats, Meat Puppets, Half Japanese, Daniel Johnston, the Wipers, the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, and so on. A modest, genuine dude, Kurt was always more comfortable talking about bands he was digging rather than discussing his own music and its unexpected success. He also introduced me to the novelist, William Burroughs, who he recorded an album with and often said that Naked Lunchis his favorite book. From Burroughs, I was introduced to the Beats, particularly Kerouac and his road journeys, Henry Miller, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Knut Hamsun, and Dostoyevsky. As another casualty of the war on drugs, Kurt reframed and deprogrammed the drug propaganda that was shoved down my throat at school regarding psychedelics. Also, Prophet Cobain brought me to esoteric Buddhism and, eventually, the kabbalah and Sufism, making his band name, Nirvana, quite poignant and ironic.  

Punk rock is about transgression. There is immense power in transgression, especially in regard to the deconstruction of harmful, limited BS. As a punk musician in Philly with Thee Peecock Angels, we hope to adopt the deconstruction and transgressional work started by folks like D. Boon and Kurt Cobain to disrupt and dismantle social and philosophical constructs that impede peace and progression. These gentlemen and women, through their music, have empowered and enlightened me. Without these folks, I would’ve given up back in high school. So, to this I say, punk rock saved my life. 


Purchase music here

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Biography:

Josh Staub is a punk rock guitarist/vocalist, an author of the Merchant of Unsellable Dreams and Land of Broken Promises trilogies, and a restorative justice facilitator in Philadelphia. His band, Thee Peecock Angels, can be listened to for free on Spotify and bandcamp. They can be reached through their Facebook page as well. TPA has released 8 eps and two full-length albums, Thousands of Dead Hipsters(punk rock homage to MDC) and Gentrify Me, which have all been recorded, engineered, and produced by Terminal City Records in North Philly, located in Josh’s attic apartment. 

An Ode to Edith

by Dianna Phelps

When I was growing up my favorite hour each week was the glorious hour I spent at Re-Creations Musicke Shoppe.  It was a quirky little place, jam-packed with any and everything you could think of that is related to music.  It was literally stuffed wall-to-wall.  At first glance you might think you were in an episode of Hoarders but after taking a closer look, you saw sheer magic. Everywhere you looked you could see an instrument and I don’t mean your run-of-the-mill guitars, pianos, horns and drums, although they were there too. I’m talking about instruments like a harpsicord, several hand-made dulcimers, an accordion and my favorite: a washboard. Every week during that holy hour, my brother and I had back-to-back, 30-minute music lessons.  When I was either waiting for my lesson to begin or waiting for my brother’s lesson to end, I wandered around the store exploring and taking in all of the exotic and fascinating things my small mind had never seen before.  I pretended I knew how to play all of the instruments and daydreamed about a world in which everything seemed possible.

We first began taking music lessons when we were 9 and 10 years old.  We had recently moved in with our Grandmother who knew that we both enjoyed learning to play the recorder while attending our previous school.  Even more, she knew that keeping us busy and engaged in something we enjoyed would help to ease the transition of our move, so she signed us up for recorder lessons.  Enter one Ms. Edith Duhon, the town music teacher.

Ms. Duhon was in her mid to late 50s, rocked the most pristine hair-do consisting of a neat bun with a tightly secured bow fastened directly underneath.  She was an anomaly for our small town.  She was well-educated, well-travelled, had no children and married late in life.  In rural Louisiana that was shocking, unheard of even.  I remember being instantly intrigued and smitten by her.  She was utterly brilliant, playing to some extent every instrument in her store.  Who does that? I surely had never met anyone that talented and I’m not sure I have since.

During one recorder lesson, Ms. Duhon had my brother and I sing a song together with her. She had one good listen and said, “Dianna, you need to find your voice.” What a lovely way of saying I was practically tone deaf.  She was like that. She could love you and make you feel valued while simultaneously telling you the cold, hard truth. After a while, I grew bored with recorder and my brother moved on to piano. She suggested I take voice lessons but I opted to stop taking lessons altogether. She didn’t give up though.  She would see me when my grandmother would pick my brother up from his lesson and would remind me that I needed to work on finding my voice and she could help me do it.  She was very convincing and it didn’t take long for me to begin taking voice lessons.  During high school, she would use this same persistence to keep me in lessons when I wanted to quit.  Each week I would work up the nerve to tell her I’d planned to stop lessons but before I could get around to it, she’d pull out all of my favorite pieces, make me sing them and I would fall in love with singing all over again. By the time I left my lesson I couldn’t imagine a world in which I didn’t get to sing with her and be in her presence for at least 30 minutes a week.

I could spend a lot of time writing about technical things I learned about music and singing during my lessons but, while those things are important and I’m grateful for having learned them, the best learning that I did during that time has nothing to do with actual music or singing.  Ms. Duhon taught me other lessons. Life lessons.  She said to me once, “Dianna, I had been to Europe and back three times before I married. You need to know that it’s important for you to have a life of your own before you share it with someone.”  Growing up in tiny-town Louisiana, I had never heard those words uttered by anyone.  It was a powerful realization that my life could be what I wanted to make it and it didn’t have to look like everyone else’s that surrounded me.  Those words were compelling. They felt like freedom and possibility.

Ms. Duhon didn’t just teach music and life-lessons, she exposed me to life through the arts in numerous ways over the course of our time together.  She took me to my first ballet.  I remember it like it was yesterday. I hated it.  But I remember being in awe of how glamorous she was for the event. She wore a dress and a costume jewelry broach and when we ate dinner beforehand at the buffet she pronounced the word boo-fay. She. Was. Everything.  She took me to my first opera, Samson and Delilah, which I loved.  She also took me to see Handel’s Messiah, which was the first time I remember falling in love with orchestra. These things might seem insignificant to some but these experiences enlarged my worldview exponentially and in ways none of my other life experiences had to that point.

In my case, music lessons didn’t produce a performer or a musician.  The totality of my music career consisted of singing at church and in college choir, and even then I had a strong apprehension to solos.  For me, music and singing is solely personal; something I have for myself and my enjoyment.  Ms. Duhon’s music lessons did help me find my voice and make me a singer but more importantly they instilled a deep, profound love of the arts, which makes my life richer.  They excited curiosity in me and made me seek understanding of the world in a new and more diverse way.  They gave me a much needed outlet to express my feelings and if you know me, you know I have ALL of the feelings.

On a recent trip to NYC to visit my brother, we were taking a train uptown and began reminiscing about Ms. Duhon and her influence.  By the time we reached our stop we were both crying.  We were crying because we felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We were crying because she was a magnificent human and through relationship and the gift of music, she changed the trajectory of our lives.  That isn’t something you take for granted. That’s something that you hold close and sacred. I’m not a musician but what I know with absolute certainty is that the arts are so subtlely and thoroughly woven into my life that the implications are long-lasting and far-reaching in ways I’ve yet to even understand.  Thank God and Ms. Duhon for that.

 

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Dianna Phelps is a school-based mental health professional with a proven track record of success in providing evidence-based supports and interventions.  Her areas of expertise include School Climate & Culture, Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, Social Emotional Learning, Behavior Intervention & Discipline and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. Dianna currently lives in Atlanta and works for Fulton County Schools where she coaches teachers under the Disproportionality Project, which is aimed at plugging the school-to-prison pipeline by providing behavior intervention, restorative practices and support services to students in need.  Dianna holds a B.S. in Sociology from Southern Nazarene University, a M.A. in Counseling from Louisiana Tech University and has completed post graduate work at Loyola University Chicago in Advanced School-Based Mental Health Practice. 

It's ok to be odd



by Adrienne Nyamsi

The story goes that my mother, tired of the loud 6-year-old singing Debbie Gibson songs in the house, finally asked ‘Why are you SO loud?’ But 6 -year-olds don’t understand rhetorical questions. So, I earnestly I explained, ‘because I need to hear my voice.’

I’m grateful that my mother heard and invested in the intent behind my throwaway response; what followed was a lifetime of vocal and piano lessons; my teens, singing in an award-winning children’s chorus and a specialized arts high school and my early twenties pursuing a BA degree in Music Theory and Performance.

The experience in itself birthed an apparent skill set; I’m a classically trained vocalist. I can read music (albeit slowly, these days). I have access to a part of my brain that non-artists perhaps do not.

What I did not realize was that there would be other less tangible but vitally important gifts that I’d receive, reference and most important, share with others for the rest of my life.

 

  1. I saw the world and expanded my idea of my potential

 

By the time I was 16, singing took me to London, the Czech Republic, Austria and much of the US. I’d sung at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and had been on the cover of the Art and Leisure section of the NYT.

I am the first, first generation American in my family. I am the child of two Cameroonian immigrants. I grew up in the 90s. Although my family made it clear that I had (and was required to reach my)  infinite potential, when I left my family’s warm embrace, I existed in a world that whispered a relentless counter message of low expectations for girls like me. But my experiences with music kept that message pianississimo, so to speak.

Everyday, access to art reminded me that absolutely anything was possible and that I was worthy, brave enough and talented enough to access such fortune.

 

  1. It’s ok to be odd

 

I was a strange art kid. You know, one of  those kids that came to school an hour before first period to have access to the piano and create 4-part harmonies to pop songs on the radio; Those kids who went to the Nederlander Theatre every Sunday morning to try to get cheap, front row tickets to RENT; those kids that once got reported to the police on the train for being loud trouble-makers, and when they came to investigate, they found six kids singing the 9th movement of the Bach Motets in E minor (we were, indeed, loud though).

We made perfect sense--to each other.  But a quick interaction with kids that had different high school experiences reminded us that we were as weird as possible.  

There are many interesting things that came to be true about ‘those kids.’ Perhaps the most interesting is that whether life took us to Broadway, the front of a classroom or a boardroom, that singularity and comfort with being left of center continues to be the secret to our success. We never did what everyone else did. And that was ok.

I wonder, what might life be like if more kids were affirmed for being different? Whom might they be brave enough to become?

 

  1. Discipline was regular part of my childhood

 

From the ages of 11-18, Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons were devoted to choir rehearsal. And so I, along with about 60 young people, fresh from eight hours of school, would shuffle into our rehearsal space. We sat like overcooked noodles in our chairs. Limp. Insolent. Over it.

In response to a room vibrating with teen apathy, our choral director simply said ‘Sit for singing.’’

Like alchemy, every back slid forward and our feet found firm ground. Regardless of what happened during the school day, what followed my choral teacher’s call to action was two hours of physical, mental and artistic focus.

‘Sit for singing’ is a declarative statement but it was never, ever a demand. No one forced me to do this work. No one forced me to keep poring over my music binder long after rehearsal was dismissed. But I learned early on that access to music required an investment of my time, mind and body. And so, I did it.

 

  1. I think creatively about my work and find unique solutions to tricky situations

 

Like many musicians, I have tons of stories about that ‘one time’ the show did not go as planned. That time when I was 11 and a soprano fell off the riser (she’s ok!). That time when my college friends and I sang a quick Messiah for Christmas money and someone fainted just as we got the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ (she’s ok! Handel probably isn’t too pleased, though). That one time I sang background vocals for someone, she couldn’t hear the key, came in completely off-pitch and whole band had to figure out how to either get her back on pitch or transpose to meet her, mid-song.

Here’s what I know now; often, life happens in between the plans you make about how life will unfold. At work, things can fall apart. But ability to trust that they will resolve,  that there is always a solution and that the solution may be an unexpected one is a lesson I learned as a child, on the stage.

The experiences I had as a young artist were profound. I am, without a doubt, a better, smarter, human because of it.

 

 


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Adrienne Nyamsi is a political and issues-based campaign operative and education equity advocate. She has worked on hyper-local, city and state-wide political and issues-based campaigns in leadership capacities across New York State. Currently, she is the Senior Director for Community Impact at Democracy Prep Public Schools. In her role, she leads the scholar recruitment and enrollment process and designs the hyperlocal community engagement strategy  for DPPS schools across the nation.  Adrienne holds a B.S in Political Science and  a B. Mus from Hunter College.   She is a Coro Fellow and has received campaign operations training through Emily’s List and the New American Leaders Project. She’s also a recovering fashion blogger and life-long singer that doesn’t sing much these days and thus, she’s kind of angsty.

 

MAGICAL UNICORNS: Artists & Teachers

by Jerry Phelps

Throughout my career as a classroom and private music teacher, and now as an arts education supervisor, leader, and consultant, I’ve often heard others say that arts education helps raise test scores. I realize that most people who say this do so in honest and genuine support of arts education. They think that if they comment on how arts education improves test scores, somehow influencers and policymakers in public education will understand that we should keep the arts alive in public schools.

While I like this sentiment, I also find it highly problematic. To me, the arts are not to be used as a tool for the other—that is, the arts are worth the study and pursuit because they function as stand-alone academic subjects. I have never once considered what I do as extra. Sure, I could tell you about the countless research studies that have clearly shown that schools with quality, robust arts education programs have higher standardized test scores, graduation rates, engagement in the school and surrounding community, and positive impact on school culture, but that relegates arts education to solely being used as a tool to solve the world’s problems. I like to think of it more as a tool to understand the world’s problems, not necessarily to solve them.

I started CORE Arts Consulting in effort to expand my work into multiple schools, communities, states, and even countries. I deeply believe in the power of arts education and that it should be a right to every child in public schools, regardless of socioeconomic background. Access to quality arts instruction changes lives. I speak from personal experience. I grew up in a small, rural town in Louisiana where little to no arts education was happening. I was fortunate to encounter Ms. Edith (Duhon) Wilkerson who ultimately changed my life through the study of piano and singing. I frequently think of all the children (and adults!) across our great country that never are so lucky. They rely almost exclusively on public schools and churches to receive education and experiences in the arts. But, what happens when those institutions are no longer doing the work?

In the article, Study: Music Education Could Help Close The Achievement Gap Between Poor and Affluent Students, the author, Rebecca Klein, explains the results of a study from Northwestern University in which researchers “looked at the impact of music education on at-risk children’s nervous systems and found that music lessons could help them develop language and reading skills.” The study was conducted over two summers in Los Angeles in a program where low-income students received free music lessons through the Harmony Project. This study reiterates that which many of us already understand: Arts education matters! We are better off having studied and experienced the arts. So, why do we continue to have to explain this to naysayers? Why are school leaders and administrators having to make scheduling decisions based on whether or not arts classes are taking away from the already increased literacy and math blocks? Why do we always attempt to support our work by first saying that it helps growth in other areas? What if it only helped children grow as artists and thinkers and doers? Isn’t that in itself enough?

My favorite line from the article is, “These findings are a testament that it’s a mistake to think of music education as a quick fix, but that if it’s an ongoing part of children’s education, making music can have a profound and lifelong impact on listening and learning.” Listening and learning. Now that’s something we could all stand to get better at! As you begin your school year, I encourage you to stop justifying your work in the arts as merely a means to assist schools in teaching literacy and math. Rather, I ask you to consider that your work is important and worthy for what it is. You teach the arts for the arts' sake. You teach it because it alone is worthy. Cross-curricular connections are inherent in the arts. You don’t really have to spend much time searching for ways to incorporate them. If you teach theatre, teach your students theatre. If you teach visual art, teach them visual art. If you teach dance, by all means, teach your students to dance! Our society is depending on us to do this work. They may not always be grateful for our work in the moment, but they certainly will in the long run. Artists and teachers, YOU ARE MAGICAL UNICORNS. Keep creating magic with your students! I’m wishing you the best year yet.

 

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With more than a decade of classroom teaching experience and a proven track record of arts education program development nationally, Jerry Phelps is a sought-after arts education professional specializing in curriculum, program development, professional development, teacher coaching, and organizational sustainability. In addition to a variety of classroom and private teaching experiences, Phelps most recently served as the Director of Arts Education and eventually the Director of Co-Curricular Programs for Democracy Prep Public Schools. In these positions, he managed and oversaw the development and growth of dozens of school-based arts education programs, national award-winning speech and debate programs, and physical education and athletic programs across the nation. Among his awards and recognition, Phelps was named a quarter finalist by the RECORDING ACADEMY© and THE GRAMMY FOUNDATION© for the inaugural Music Educator Award. As a seasoned singer and performer, Phelps can be seen on stage frequently throughout New York City in a variety of solo shows and one-off performances. Phelps currently serves as the Principal Consultant for the New York City-based arts education consulting firm, CORE Arts Consulting.