FOCUS ON STUDENTS: Student Essay Contest Winners Pay Tribute to Influential Music Teachers

In This Article:

We will do well to listen to what teens tell us about music as a common need and a constant presence in their lives. Music is their social glue – a bridge for building acceptance and tolerance for people of different ages and cultural circumstances. –- Patricia Shehan Campbell, Ph.D., NAMM Foundation “Sounds of Learning” research study, 2008

Each year, School Band & Orchestra Magazine conducts a nationwide essay contest for 4th – 12th grade students. Ten students reflected on the 2011 Essay Question:

“How my music teacher has influenced me and my goals in school….”

Music is essential to a complete education, and music teachers show their students that long hours of practice pay off in skills mastery and pride of accomplishment. Studying music teaches children how to face challenges head-on, builds confidence and helps them achieve academic success. And, playing music offers teens joy and respite from difficult life situations.

Students Say: My Music Teacher Encouraged Me and Built My Self-Esteem

Since 2000, under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), educators have recognized the value of art for its own sake. They also acknowledge that arts activities can “enhance children’s self-awareness, self-confidence, and acceptance of others” and can further motivate youngsters, especially those at risk or with learning disabilities, to stay in school.

These students agree:

“My music teachers have taught me that my disability doesn’t matter – only my ability does. I am autistic and . . . they value my perfect pitch, good rhythm, solid percussion technique, and ability to help an ensemble sound great. . . this year I even won 2nd place on timpani statewide. . . Music is how I connect with the world; it’s how I express myself. I now want to major in music performance in college because of the opportunities given to me.” (Ryan, 17, Washington)

“(My band teacher, Mr. Darrell Benjamin, has always given me) upbeat support . . . His encouragements have motivated me to practice more and make progress every day in music, as well as in all my academic subjects. My hard work paid off when I was able to move up to advanced band . . . Mr. B. has reinforced what my parents have always told me to do, which is to put education first, do my very best to hit high notes in my academic studies.” (Widchard, 11, Pennsylvania)

Students Say: My Music Teacher Motivated Me to Excel in All My Subjects

According to a 2006 report by the College Entrance Examination Board, “students of music continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT.”

The experience of these students supports the research:

“My music teacher, Mrs. Zebley) . . . told our class, ‘you are only as good as you want to be, if you practice honestly you will only get better, and maybe even become perfect at some things.’ I ran with this encouragement . . . (and) applied her theory to other subjects. As my ability to play the oboe amplified so did my grades in other classes . . . (and) I found myself with straight “A’s” in all areas. This was a first for me.” (Haunnah, 12, Florida)

“(My music teacher Mr. Berdahl said), ‘Perfection is expected, but excellence is accepted.’ This taught me never to settle for mediocrity, to always strive for the best. With his words of advice in mind, I have since become first chair euphonium in the school’s symphonic band and lead trombone in the school’s top jazz band. Also, I have found myself applying his advice to my academics . . . He has pushed me to become the best student, the best musician, and the best person I can be.” (Caleb, 17, Montana)

Students Say: My Music Teacher Taught Me About Leadership, Teamwork and Self-Discipline

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) defines the arts as a core subject, and the arts play a significant role in children’s development and learning process. The arts can help students become tenacious, team-oriented problem solvers who are confident and able to think creatively. –- U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, 2009

To thrive in the 21st century, our future leaders will need strong character and a diversity of skills. These students are well on their way to becoming responsible world citizens:

“(My music teacher, Mr. Seckla) helped me reach the goal of learning how to play the flute by stressing the importance of practicing to reach your goals . . . After every concert, I feel pride swelling inside me and . . . it reminds me of one of the most significant qualities of playing music: teamwork.” (Emily, 14, New Hampshire)

“(Mr. McHenry, my new band director) never made me feel inferior for not remembering how to play, but instead gave me just the push I needed to achieve my goal. I look upon his example of leadership to know how to lead. He has helped me to become the player that I am today and placed one ultimate goal in my sight: fulfilling the potential that he so often reminds me that I possess.” (Sarah, 17, Tennessee)

“(My band director, Ms. Shemeka Nash) reminds me that I can achieve my goals and that I can make a difference . . . She always encourages me to study in all of my classes. She encourages me to practice so that I am a well-rounded student. Ms. Nash consistently reinforces . . . that WE CAN achieve our goals, we can be productive citizens, we can live good lives and be proud of our accomplishments.” (Adam, 18, Illinois)

Students Say: My Music Teacher Showed Me That Music is Fun, Inspiring and Comforting in Times of Adversity

Studying music and the arts elevates children’s education, expands students’ horizons, and teaches them to appreciate the wonder of life. -– U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, July 1999

Learning to “roll with the punches” and improvise is both a musical and a life skill. Teaching students how to use music to help meet challenges and gain enjoyment has long-lasting impact:

“My teacher, Mr. Scott Backus . . . (is) easy to talk to and is understanding. Most of all, he makes music fun to learn. Mr. Backus’s love for music has influenced me to become a better student and person . . . Mr. Backus has taught me to be prepared with my instrument and music and most importantly with a smile on my face and a positive attitude. I realize music helps us relax and forget about our problems . . . I know I can accomplish anything with hard work, dedication, and practice.” (Briannah, 12, Washington)

“(My high school band teacher, Mr. Ned Smith) . . . constantly demonstrated a pure sense of respect and sensitivity towards music . . . (and) instilled a deep appreciation for the power and beauty of music in all his students. Never before had I recognized the comfort, healing and hope that could be offered through music . . . My love for music has strengthened each year of high school because of Mr. Smith. (Valerie, 17, Connecticut)

And, one very special teacher, who passed away from cancer last year, left his students with an enduring legacy:

“(My band and jazz band teacher Mr. Paul Isaacs) . . . taught me that I could succeed even in a daunting and scary environment if I just practiced and played my heart out. Now, only a year later, I’m playing solos in front of the entire school . . . He taught us to love life no matter what it throws at us, and he always wanted to be teaching us, even at the peak of his illness . . .No storm ever shook that calm, and he never stopped singing. Because of him, neither will I.” (Alex, 13, Minnesota)

Pass It Forward: Be an Advocate for Music Education!

If you are a music teacher, you are on the frontline of advocacy efforts to keep your school’s music programs strong and visible. Teachers, students, parents and other community members can all work together to make a difference:

1. Share these essays in their entirety with parents, students, school board members, school administrators, elected officials, music retailers, and community leaders.
2. Use resources to build a strong music education coalition in your school district; put the SupportMusic Community Action Kit to work today!
3. Write a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper about why music education must be part of a well-rounded curriculum.
4. Post a link to on your website & social media (ie, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to build awareness.
5. “Like” the SupportMusic Facebook page and post news about your school music program and your community.
6. Encourage students to attend school board meetings to speak about how music education impacts their lives.
7. NOW MORE THAN EVER….raise your voice about the importance of music education for every child!

Read School Band and Orchestra’s winning student essays – and get information about the 2012 essay contest (beginning September 1, 2011) – at

-- Debra Bresnan is a communications consultant for She produces web content, newsletters and other written materials for businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals. Contact: