Today’s teacher story features Mary Kate Ells, the orchestra teacher at Huth Road Elementary School in Grand Island, New York. This is the fourth story in my series about teachers, their work, the things that they share with their students, and the things that bring them joy.
What made you decide to be a music
I played music
since I was four. My first instrument was piano, and I started playing the violin
when I was in fourth grade. When I was in college, I wanted to go into
international relations. In
college, I was a counselor at a string camp; I taught film tunes and orchestra
music to middle schoolers. That’s when I switched and decided to be a music
teacher. I’m currently getting my masters in violin performance.
Tell me about your experience as a music
I love being a
music teacher. I like the joy of spreading the fun of music and the discipline
of music to my students at any age. They start at fourth grade, age nine or
ten. There is a community aspect to
music. Even from an early age, they can play for friends and family. They get
to play happy birthday, Christmas songs, and other songs for their families. They can spread their music on in their regular
lives, so it’s out of the classroom.
What does music do for your students?
accomplished. You teach them the basics, and they grow as people. Their
confidence just spirals. We are lucky to see that part of them.
The orchestra is
all fifth graders, and this is their second year of playing. I have two
orchestras. One has both fourth graders
and the fifth graders. We meet twice a week and rehearse for our concerts and
assemblies throughout the year. The assemblies are gifts that we give to our
fellow school members. For our holiday assembly, we played holiday tunes,
including “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” This
is how they learn to play together and individually, too, but mostly as a
What does playing together as a group do
for the students?
I think that it
gives them a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that you can get in a
classroom but not in the same way. That tends to build really great friendships
and social relationships. With today’s technology, everything is pretty much
instantaneous, and it’s very easy to get almost anything that you want right.
With music, you can’t do that. You have to work to make music but, also when
you accomplish that, you can’t have that taken away. That is yours. You’ve done
it, and you own it.
How can parents support their kids as
really integral to the students learning music, if only to be patient while
they learn. The students can’t really succeed as well without the support of
their parents. Success stems from support from the home, so we are grateful for
everything that the parents do. Music is a discipline. The fun does come after
hard work. If you have an innate desire to practice, that is awesome, but it
does come with hard work.
Tell me about your own relationship with
I love classical
and chamber music. Quartets and trios. I also like fiddle tunes. I have tried
bluegrass a few times. My favorite composers are Ludwig Van Beethoven, Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart, and Antonin Dvorak, all great classical composers.