The Music Issue - Alumni as Educators
Emerging from Gonzaga’s Music Department come performers, composers, musicians and singers alike. However, just as the entire university is rooted in the Jesuit belief to teach, so is the Music Department, developing passionate music education majors every year.
Here are the stories of three individuals, all music directors in schools around the country and globe. They share their teaching experiences, demonstrating how music can move us to give a gift of knowledge – a gift that truly keeps on giving.
By Kourtney Schott (’18)
Stacia Cammarano (’16) – Shadle Park High
Stacia spent the summer after graduation applying for middle school and high school choral positions all across Washington state. As fate would have it, she was hired as the choir and guitar teacher at Shadle Park High School in Spokane.
Even though Cammarano is new to teaching, she finds that her personal choir experience is very fresh. “The passion and musical skills I cultivated at Gonzaga are really what drive me as a teacher,” she says. Just as Gonzaga inspired her to become a great teacher, Cammarano also strives “to provide that same challenging, welcoming and high-level community” to her students.
One of the most surprising parts about Cammarano’s journey has been how close she’s gotten with her students. Many of the students had a well-loved music teacher retire a couple years before Cammarano arrived. Instead of being calloused towards her, the students eagerly asked Cammarano to help them learn and grow, wanting to improve as a community.
With her first year of teaching under her belt, Cammarano continues to explore and challenge her students and herself, but she never forgets how fortunate she really is to be an educator, “My students blow me away everyday with their energy and work ethic. The fact that in this huge world I cross paths with these specific students and teach them for a short time is the greatest honor.”
Jordan Spicher (’15) – Great Falls High
Like many other students who grew up in rural Montana, Spicher was involved in a long list of activities – including band and choir. Her music teacher, Mrs. Ryan, taught K-12 band and choir, and instilled a love for music in Spicher, helping her find her voice. Still, Spicher did not have career aspirations of becoming a music teacher when she came to Gonzaga.
What changed her mind? It was as simple as joining Gonzaga’s Concert Choir, where Spicher found that music was something she could not go without in life: “To our very core, we experience singing as one of the deepest forms of human connection.” A connection that Spicher wanted to give to others.
Fast-forward to today. Spicher teaches vocal music and guitar at Great Falls High School in Great Falls, Montana, but as an educator in a public school, she is able to shape her teenage students, to convey the personal connection music brings.
“My passion for using music as a tool to send compassionate, conscientious and understanding people out into the world really blossomed from the network I developed at Gonzaga,” Spicher notes. Her engagement in the world around her helped her realize the power of music in our society, a belief she continues to instill in her students.
“For my students, I hope to build their musical literacy, but also their ability to be vulnerable and share their voice with the audience.”
Whitney Meininger (’12) – Seoul International
For Meininger, combining a career of music, international travel and teaching initially wasn’t as simple as “do re mi.” A planner at heart, a music career did not sound like the safest option to her. Once Meininger was able to work with the incredible and inspiring teachers at Gonzaga, though, she realized that her musical passion could lead to something more.
Meininger graduated from Gonzaga, and after teaching high school choir in Colorado for three years, Meininger became Secondary Choral Director with GEMS American Academy in Abu Dhabi. Currently she is the Director of Choirs at Seoul International School in South Korea.
Diversity is an overwhelming factor in the classroom when it comes to international education. Meininger says that in Abu Dhabi, she rarely had more than two students from the same country in each class, creating one of the most culturally rich choral programs she could possibly imagine. Though Seoul International School is not as ethnically diverse, it still offers an array of students who have grown up all over the world.
“Teaching internationally has truly been a dream come true,” says Meininger. “Getting the opportunity to see students of different nationalities, backgrounds, races and religions create beauty and harmony together has been profoundly awe-inspiring.”
Another perk? Competitions, festivals and professional development allow Meininger to travel to five to ten countries every year, all free of charge as part of her position. Regularly scheduled school breaks means that she is able to functionally and affordably travel the majority of the year.
Though there are many reasons Meininger is grateful for her position, she says that the perspectives she gained living in the Middle East is one of the most valuable outcomes of teaching internationally. Oftentimes the media portrays a false reality of hostility in the United Arab Emirates, while in actuality, the generosity and kindness of every person Meininger met often surpassed what she was used to in the United States. Life in Abu Dhabi and now in Seoul have been breathtakingly diverse experiences that Meininger describes as “unbelievable.”
Read "Alumni Allegro" about graduates who enjoyed successful careers as performing artists.