John Kenniebrew, Vocal Music Teacher January 29, 2020 By wpengine Since I’m a music teacher, it will come as no surprise I would say this, but I really believe that music is much more than just an elective. This applies to all of the arts really, but especially to music. It is so central to everything that we do, whether we realize it or not. There is not a single person in the world who doesn’t like music. What do you like about teaching vocal music? Vocal music offers a million connections to other subjects. For example, having to learn about anatomy in order to perform certain vocal techniques is a science connection. Whether a student needs help singing with more volume or hitting their notes with more accuracy, knowing their body on a scientific level helps to lay out a roadmap. Through this connection, they learn how to employ the proper techniques at the proper time. A vocalist who can do this well is bound to be quite versatile, which leads to more performance opportunities. We also do a lot of music reading, writing, and learning about history and famous composers, which all connect intricately to other subjects – math, ELA, social studies, and more. How did you decide to become a music teacher? Well, I started off singing in church and eventually pursued it more formally. By the 10th grade, I was taking voice lessons and singing in several choirs. I soon decided to pursue music beyond high school. So I enrolled at Howard University. I primarily studied vocal jazz. Vocal arranging and writing for ensembles and choirs became a passion of mine. And, of course, I enjoyed performing as well, traveling all around the country and overseas. One of my favorites was a visit to the White House in 2013 to sing for the Obamas. That year, I returned to Howard to earn a master’s degree in music. As a graduate teaching assistant, I taught four or five courses at the undergrad level, and I really enjoyed giving voice lessons, teaching music theory, and preparing ensembles to perform. I saw what wonders music and academics could do and I was reminded of a time in my life when I had been a very bad student. I soon realized that my love of music had helped me to understand other subjects, which led to a great improvement academically. It was the only reason I was ever able to go to college and get good grades. So naturally, I discovered a love and respect for teaching music. I want to give someone else the opportunity to use music to better themselves, as I did. It’s fair to say that I was a bad student. I probably would have ended up in college somewhere, but I might have landed in a field for which I lacked passion. It’s no exaggeration to say that I may not have finished college. If I had not had that introduction to a mind-opening view of music in high school, it would have changed everything. I have no idea what else I’d be doing right now. You mentioned that you wanted to get into teaching because you wanted to ignite in students the same passion for music that you found. Do any examples come to mind from over the years? One student, who is now in high school, first came to me as a sixth grader. She is the “poster child” for what hard work can accomplish–especially in music. While other students may have entered my class with more of a natural talent, she came in with an outstanding work ethic and a passion that was rare. By the time she graduated from eighth grade, she had learned how to do things with her voice that others had not. She had learned to listen to her own voice and how to respond to vocal instruction. This took her performance to a much higher level. When I think about students like that, I realize how important it is for them to have these kinds of experiences. Now I’m fully confident that whether she goes into music full time or not, she is going to be that much better of a student and that much better of a person because she learned how to do something simple; to sing a song, and sing it well. That takes a lot. Yeah, a lot of confidence I imagine. Confidence, yes, but also a lot of higher-order thinking skills; knowing how to receive a critique, and how to deconstruct the performance. To apply the critique to one’s performance—to reinforce vocal techniques that are working and to adjust those that aren’t. Is there something that I haven’t asked that you want to include in your spotlight? Since I’m a music teacher, it will come as no surprise I would say this, but I really believe that music is much more than just an elective. This applies to all of the arts really, but especially to music. It is so central to everything that we do, whether we realize it or not. There is not a single person in the world who doesn’t like music. If you ask a hundred people, each will all have at least one genre of music they like. Music is all around us. And it’s not just for pleasure. Music has powerful functions. Who knows how long it would have taken me to memorize the 26 letters of the alphabet if they had not been taught to me in song? And Albert Einstein said that his theory of special relativity dawned on him while he had been pondering a beautiful orchestral arrangement. He was a musician, and a very good one at that. Modern theoretical physics wouldn’t be what it is today if he had not been one. A deep understanding of music enabled him to think about things from a different angle. I love to see support and honor given to the arts, especially music, because it does so much for us. It’s not an “extra.” It’s something we could never do without. What are your thoughts about the Friendship Arts program? I’m so proud of Friendship for expanding its arts offerings! Before it was closed down, City Arts + Prep PCS was the only arts school in DC serving kids in grades Pre-K through 8th. The fact that Friendship has transplanted the entire arts team and many of the students is a testament to the vision of our leaders, which is just spot on. They can see something is working, they can see something is effective, they can see something that is changing lives, and they can see how good it is for Friendship to offer these opportunities and fill a void that was left by the closing of City Arts. The response has been great. Our kids and families that are so excited about the arts hub at Friendship Armstrong. Is there a fun fact you would like to share? One fun fact is that I performed as a contestant on a TV show, NBC’s “The Sing Off”, which was a competition-style show for singing groups back in 2011. That was a really fun experience and it is so surreal to be able to say I’ve performed on TV in front of millions of people. It was life-changing, to say the least. Another fun fact is that I studied French for four years in middle/high school and then later and college. I feel almost as strongly about language as I feel about music; it opened up a lot of doors for me. My grasp of the English language grew immensely because I learned concepts in French which carried over to my mother tongue. It also aided my music studies; when you study classical music, you inevitably begin to learn music in other languages like French, Italian, Latin, etc.