Story of a… Music Teacher

In pursuing one passion, Jennifer Erickson finds another—students.

Roberto Gonzalez

She didn’t set out to teach middle-schoolers. Erickson taught high school orchestra for 15 years and switched to a part-time position for family reasons. Now a full-time orchestra teacher to the 6th- to 8th-graders of Southwest Middle School in Orlando, she says the job “feeds my soul just fine.” 

The moment she knew she had a gift for music. “I was in preschool, and I was sitting on the floor in a circle in music class. I remember very distinctly thinking, ‘The teacher is playing certain notes and singing them. I’m singing what she’s singing, but these other people around me are not.’ There was a definite realization that I knew something I hadn’t been taught.”

Her career path was set at a young age. “My mom is a teacher, and she discouraged me from going into teaching because of all the negatives—low respect, low pay, long hours, difficult challenges.” Erickson briefly relented but then won her mother’s approval. “She could see that music was the thing that got me up in the morning—the thing that kept me going—and she wasn’t going to take that away from me.”

Best concert moment. “Every group has its own unique personality, and you try to program music that allows that group to shine. When it does, it’s almost as if you’re basking in the glory of something much bigger than yourself.”

Worst concert moment. Each year ends on a sad note: “the last concert with a group knowing that I’ll never hear that group’s exact sound again.”

She’s still a student. Already proficient in voice, piano, percussion, violin and cello, Erickson started studying viola—now her favorite instrument—a few years ago. “I think that’s something common to a lot of artists: We’re always trying to be better.”

Directing wins over performing. She sings and plays viola at her church and played piano accompaniment at her daughter’s first Solo & Ensemble contest this year, but she prefers the podium. “I would much rather be in front of a group of young people conducting them and allowing them to have the spotlight.”

Helping students choose an instrument—it’s like a trip down Diagon Alley. “The wand chooses the wizard. It is similar in terms of instruments. I tell the students to pay attention to which one is calling their name.”

Music transforms. “This is a very selfish job in some ways because I’m feeding my own passion. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that the human element of teaching is so much more powerful than what most of us ever expected going in. If I treat the students just based on how well they play, I’m not really doing what I need to be doing to feed their souls. Instead, I treat them like the wonderful young people they are becoming, and I show them how music can help them become that. That’s the full integration of what teaching really is in music.”

Keep at it. “Music is for everyone, and hard work and perseverance can make up for a lack of natural talent.”

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