Music Teacher – Charmian Lyons
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I started learning Suzuki violin and piano from ages 3 and 4, respectively. I later took up the harp at age 9 and then the oboe at age 11, which quickly became my main instrument. After completing all of the ABRSM violin and oboe exams, I went on to study the oboe further under the instruction of the principal oboist from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. After passing my GCSE and A-level music exams, I went on to study for my music degree at The University of Sheffield at which time I also successfully passed my diploma in oboe performance. After a few years working in the music industry in London, I relocated to Manchester where I completed my Post Graduate Certificate of Education in Specialist Instrumental Teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music.
What is your current educational career choice? Where do you teach and which grade/subject?
I am Head of Music at the British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park. I teach all primary grades.
How many hours do you work each week?
I work from around 7:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. each day and some evening and weekends for performances.
Can you take us through what a 9am-5pm (or 6 am – 10 pm) day actually entails for someone in your field?
I normally start the day with a rehearsal of some sort before lessons start – either string ensemble, percussion group, flute choir or general drop in practice sessions for the pupils. Then I have varying lessons throughout the day, for example, grade 1 full class violin, grade 3 full class trumpet, grade 4 and 5 full class choir or band rehearsal followed by a school orchestra or choir rehearsal at the end of the day. Days are extremely busy and varied!
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I love passing my love and knowledge of music onto children and seeing them get excited about music in the same way that I do. It’s so rewarding to be able to teach the children to play instruments and see how they progress and develop into accomplished musicians. I believe that having a strong music department within a school is essential as it enables the pupils to build confidence and express themselves in really creative ways and also to collaborate with each other and with the wider community through events and performances.
What characteristics do you think allow someone to thrive in this career?
Firstly, a passion for music and children! It is important to be ambitious, creative and enthusiastic in order to relate to the pupils, inspire them and ignite their own love for music. On a more practical level, you have to know your subject, be sensitive to the needs and learning styles of the class, and show resilience, flexibility and patience!
What gets you excited about your job and why?
I love the endless opportunities for performance and collaboration. I also get really excited about those amazing moments when pupils find they have a natural talent for an instrument, especially in cases where those pupils perhaps struggle in other subject areas.
This year, I am especially excited about my job as our company of schools, Nord Anglia Education, has partnered with The Juilliard School in New York to create a new music curriculum. My school was selected as one of the ten inaugural schools to help create and deliver the new curriculum and I have the role of Regional Lead for North America helping to roll out the new performing arts program to other schools within our region. The new curriculum focuses on 12 core pieces of music spanning different genres, composers and times in history as well as a skills based aspect which involves all pupils from Kindergarten to grade 5 accessing these pieces of music through the keyboard.
On a scale from 1 – 10, how hard was it to get to where you are now? Was it worth the journey?
It took a few years and a lot of hard work to get to where I am now. I always wanted to live and work in the US and to also have the opportunity to teach at a school which really cares about music and the arts. There is a lot of competition for posts such as mine and I recognize how fortunate I am to be in my current position. So, yes, all the hard work was definitely worth it!
What is one thing would you like to see changed in your field?
I would like for every headmaster/principal to recognize the arts as an essential part of the overall development of children. It is so important for children to be able to experience and access music and other arts subjects as a way of allowing them to become more comfortable with things that are uncertain in the world and recognizing the validity of their own instincts and ideas.
What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your career?
I would like to feel that my music lessons and school performances have had a lasting impact on the pupils and that they look back at their time at school with fond memories of what they achieved in music. I also hope that many of the children I teach continue with their instruments until their teenage years and beyond and look to join orchestras and choirs when they are older.
Looking at the bigger picture, I hope to have helped successfully implement the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Program in all Nord Anglia Education schools so that it becomes firmly embedded as a core part of our curriculum for years to come.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
You have to love what you do and show passion for your subject. Take on every challenge and don’t be afraid of trying new things, starting new ensembles, learning new instruments to teach the pupils. Find out what your pupils’ interests are and create groups/ensembles that interest them. Be prepared to be extremely busy and immerse yourself in all different genres of music. In this way, the Juilliard curriculum covers music from Beethoven to Thelonious Monk, from traditional Chinese music for ancient instruments to the film music of John Williams. All of these varied works and styles have links and similarities and really open our pupils’ eyes to how all music is connected and links to the wider world through architecture, literature, art, history, science etc. aim to introduce your students to an arts-rich curriculum which develops their overall cultural literacy.
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