2023 SBO+ Essay Contest Winners

Thomas Palmatier • Essay ContestJune 2023 • June 11, 2023

Thanks to our generous sponsors Casio, Alfred Music Publishing, MakeMusic, Yamaha
Corporation of America, Hal Leonard, NAMM Foundation, Focusrite and Adam Audio.

This year, we asked essayists to answer this question: “Tell us about a music teacher who has changed your life. What was it about them that had an impact on you? How did their teaching, personality, or actions differ from other good teachers?”

Students will receive a $1,000 scholarship from The NAMM Foundation and SBO+ Magazine. Their amazing teachers will each receive $1,000 in products from Alfred, MakeMusic, Hal Leonard, and Yamaha. They will also receive a Casio PX-S1100 keyboard, a pair of studio monitors from ADAM Audio, and a sound studio from Focusrite. Thanks to our amazing sponsors and congratulations to the winners. Happy reading!

Gabriel Hill, 12th Grade
Current Teacher: Lindsay Ciechanski – Skyline High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan

I distinctly remember my first day of music class in first grade. I had recently moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Ann Arbor, Michigan midyear -a huge transition for any first grader. I had been used to 14 minutes of music class every other week where we did nothing but watch movies and have bubble gum blowing contests. In Ann Arbor, though, we had music class twice a week for 35 to 40 minutes! When I walked into the classroom for the first time, I knew this was going to be different. Ms. Rothfeld greeted me with a kind smile and a captivating demeanor. She had a unique personality and understood how to get any young student excited about music. Soon, I was singing and playing instruments like the ukulele and the recorder; I was completely engrossed in the music and melodies that surrounded me. She opened a whole new world of music that I didn’t know existed. Despite growing up in a musical family, I now know that I had to find music on my own to truly enjoy it. Ms. Rothfeld fostered this at an early age and educated me about the wonders of using melody to create an emotional response. I know I would not have discovered my love of music if she had not been there twice a week instilling not only the skills but sharing her pure joy and love of music with me.

Zoie Dozier, 12th Grade
Current Teacher: Erma Davis  – South Gwinnett High School, Snellville, Georgia

Those who have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Davis, my high school orchestra teacher, know she’s one of a kind. Mrs. Davis adores hearing about the positive things happening in our lives and constantly encourages us. Many people today criticize teachers, yet I cannot imagine my life or high school experience without Mrs. Davis. I have had many great teachers through my 13 years in the Gwinnett County Public School System but my favorite one of all must be Mrs. Davis. She taught me how to be more disciplined by implementing the importance of practicing my instrument, being able to be assertive, and the significance of being detail oriented. Mrs. Davis has positively impacted my life through her kindness and her due diligence. Whenever anyone needs a helping hand Mrs. Davis is always there with a smile on her face. For example, when an orchestra student couldn’t afford to buy their concert attire Mrs. Davis surprised them by buying it for them! She goes above and beyond for her students because she loves us and wants to see us succeed. I began high school under difficult circumstances, but because of Mrs. Davis’s encouragement and inspiration, I will graduate with a 3.4 GPA. I have been accepted to Georgia Southern University to major in healthcare administration and sonography. I worked hard to attain academic success, but I also credit Mrs. Davis for encouraging me and assuring me that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Aiden Johnson, 11th Grade
Current Teacher: Daniel Schantol – Lied STEM Academy, Las Vegas, Nevada

The music teacher who has affected my life would be Daniel Schantol, my middle school guitar teacher. When I first started middle school, I noticed a class for teaching guitar, and I originally thought it’d be a fun little class to just get out of tougher electives, but little did I know it would spark my love for music and its inner workings. Mr. Schantol has an optimistic and bright personality, and it was obvious that he had a deep admiration and respect for music, which I would come to share. This passion for their subject is what separates teachers from good to amazing, and an amazing teacher he was. He helped our class explore the intricacies of music, even going into a lesson or two on music theory to help us understand why some music pieces had such a profound effect. I even had the honor to be in the Honor’s Guitar program at the school, a title which only five other people at the school shared. Before the class, I only understood music as something fun to listen to break up the monotonous silence of various pieces of media. It was his teachings and inspiring passion that, to this day, made me love picking apart various music pieces from different media and examining their techniques, a far cry from the simple understanding of music I had before. Mr. Schantol opened my eyes from a once basic understanding of music to a deep love and appreciation for it.

Bridget Bassinger, 12th Grade
Current Teacher: Kate Margrave – Pine Creek High School, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Ms. Margrave never sends an email with less than five exclamation points!!!!! Excitement and enthusiasm bleeds into everything she does, and throughout my high school career, that has made every difference in the world. Ms. Margrave is one of those people who genuinely cares about her students. She has gone to bat again and again for her students, going above and beyond to show how much she cares. When I went to All State Orchestra for the first time, she couldn’t go with me, but she checked in on me every day to make sure I was having a good time. She would text other band directors to go talk to me to ensure that everything was okay and send me support with every update I sent her. She took the time out of her schedule to let me know she was thinking of me, even when I was the only person from our school to go. Her actions of kindness are not just specific to me, though. Ms. Margrave tries her hardest to make every student feel welcome in her classroom. The instrumental music program includes hundreds of kids, but she knows all of us. She isn’t afraid to admit when she doesn’t know something, and she is always willing to find out something for you. She is the ultimate model of what a teacher should be, and I am immensely grateful for getting to learn from her. I want to take her lessons of kindness and inclusion to change others’ lives, the way she changed mine.

Taryn Mareau, 12th Grade
Current Teacher: Josh Markham, Sequoyah High School, Canton, Georgia

Depending on the teacher, chorus class can be a slew of notes and words, or it can make music come alive. My high school choir teacher breathed life into music. Mr. Markham taught me that every song resonates with someone. He always gives everyone in the class a chance to share what life experience of theirs allows them to connect to the music. I’ll never forget the first time I noticed someone cry at the end of a song my freshman year: the picture is so burned within my brain because we weren’t even singing English. That person was brought to tears by the sheer subliminal emotion evoked through the chords/singing. I’ve thrown my heart into every song since that one; there’s always a reason to since learning that every song resonates with someone. And I may not have ever learned that if Markham hadn’t tried to teach it. He also taught me that anyone can have a passion for and be brought together by music. Markham reminded us that the point of music was to learn and sing it together. And maybe that—rather than any musicality or technical skill applied—is what makes a song beautiful, that unseen yet ever-present tether tying us to the music and to each other. Ultimately, Mr. Markham has irrevocably changed my life because unlike other ‘good’ teachers, he gave me a lesson I can take with me no matter where I end up: he taught me that music connects us all.

Prudence Peng, 6th Grade
Current Teacher: Matt Murdock, Sycamore School, Indianapolis, Indiana

Do-Re-Mi … 1-2-3 … were the words that I always heard any time after I entered my elementary school music room. However, I was not curious about these words and numbers at that time, I was astonished by my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Shaw, who had a huge impact on my view of music. She was an old, affectionate lady with a pleasant voice who adored every kid and had a soft spot for teaching. No matter how horrible a mistake was, if you learned a lesson from it, she would still be the nicest person on the planet. One of the amusing memories I had was learning how to play the recorder. Although our recorder playing sounded like a dying goat with pneumonia, Mrs. Shaw would still support us with passion and love. Another vivid memory of Mrs. Shaw is when we were practicing playing the xylophone. Mrs. Shaw gave everyone a perfect example of how to play the xylophone. When it’s our turn to play, “oh boy!” was an understatement but Mrs. Shaw was so encouraging with friendly smiles and had us to start again. Mrs. Shaw taught me that it’s okay not to be perfect if we enjoy the process and appreciate the opportunities to enjoy music. Even though most of us were not going to become professional musicians and play all these instruments, Mrs. Shaw planted the seeds of loving music in our hearts, minds, and souls, forever blooming.

Olivia Laudicina, 7th Grade
Current Teacher: Man May – Lake Travis Middle School, Spicewood, Texas

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops,” said Henry Brooks Adams, an acclaimed American historian. A teacher is not just someone who gives us daily lessons, but someone whose lessons are lifelong and impacts our personal growth and maturity. Mrs. May exemplifies this philosophy because she has made a meaningful impact on my character development. Mrs. May taught me “the harder way is the better way,” the road less traveled has thorns and gravel, but it will make me a stronger person. For instance, Mrs. May will challenge me to play more complex literature knowing I may not win in competition. It is not about winning, but about the calluses caused by the immeasurable number of times I practiced on my cello to achieve the perfect pitch. Though learning the harder piece is more painful and takes more dedication, I win in the end because I am now a better cellist.  Mrs. May’s classroom provides a safe haven for me. When I’m sad, the music in her room lifts my spirits and makes me happy. When I am stressed, her classroom helps me find peace and quietude because she teaches us to find relaxation in music. Finally, her class is a place where I can socialize without judgment or peer-pressure because the orchestra students come from various ethnic backgrounds and social-economic status, and I don’t have to pretend to fit in. Mrs. May teaches us that music brings people together from all walks of life.

Ansley Floyd, 8th Grade
Current Teacher: Shanna Danielson, Bermudian Springs Middle School, York Springs, Pennsylvania

“You work on your own time. We are here to practice, not rehearse.” My band director Mrs. Danielson has shown me how integrating passion and dedication into music can change a person’s life, because it changed mine. Many of my music teachers in the past have reluctantly told students to play a song, but not give any valuable feedback to make us better as a band as well as individual musicians. Mrs. Danielson is the opposite. Her voice is always bouncy and energetic. She is always motivating us and pushing us to our limits. Mrs. Danielson has made me view notes like a baby that needs love. We need to take care of each and every note based on its personality. If it has a staccato, embrace the jumpy, short bursts of energy. If it is a tenuto, embrace its curiosity in living longer. Before Mrs. Danielson led the way, notes were only notes. Now when I see an accent or a slur, my heart leaps. I couldn’t wait to embrace each note’s unique character to be a unified, harmonious, and musical song. My passion for music wasn’t always as alive as it is now. In fact, my old band directors influenced my hatred for music. Mrs. Danielson, however, made music an enjoyable, sometimes emotional experience. She took our band on a colorful, wonderful adventure in the land of music. I couldn’t ask for a better tour guide to help lead the way in the diverse world of music.

Leah Salavarria, 8th Grade
Current Teacher: Brenda Hascall – Vandenberg Middle School, Lompoc, California

The music teacher that changed my life is Mrs. Hascall. I have never really been interested in any instrument, and I had just happened to choose guitar as my elective. I wanted to try it out since it was a new elective option for my school, and I never knew it’d lead to my biggest passion. Ms. Hascall has introduced me to guitar and helped me learn more about music. Ms. Hascall’s teaching is so simple, yet effective and resonates with me. She has been able to teach me guitar basics and fundamentals while bringing joy to it, like singing and playing together as a class. She makes this class my favorite class out of my whole schedule because she allows me to be creative. Of course, there are many other good teachers, but I feel like the difference between Ms. Hascall and other teachers is she can invoke creativity and joy in a person while playing guitar. When we play songs together as a class, it feels fun but calming at the same time. Even though I don’t know Ms. Hascall on a personal level, she has always been kind to me, and my class and she has always had a smile on her face. Even if things are as simple as playing guitar for one period and learning in class, it makes my day much better because I get to express myself through my music. For that, she has changed my life. Even when school is over and I go home, I continue to play guitar for hours on end just to improve. Without Ms. Hascall, I don’t even know if I would’ve gotten into guitar in the first place. Playing the guitar is my life now, and one day I aspire to be a great guitarist like Ms. Hascall.

Simone Rankin, 5th Grade
Current Teacher: Allison Kipp, Legacy Elementary, Brambleton, Virginia

Déjà vu! Mrs. Kipp has an interesting story, and it happened to me as well. The story is about her as a fifth grader, being inspired by her music teacher. I understand this feeling, and I feel powerful every time I sing. I feel even stronger when Mrs. Kipp is conducting. It’s an incredible feeling, having her around, as she is exceptionally enjoyable and kindhearted. I also like that she makes sure no one’s being distracting. Distractions, in my opinion, are hard to get rid of, while Mrs. Kipp makes it look extremely easy. Also, Mrs. Kipp is not just teaching us the basic music staff. In my school, there is a fifth (and fourth) grade chorus, and Mrs. Kipp gracefully conducts it. There is also All County Chorus, a program that requires auditioning. Applying for All County Chorus was stressful, and only a thing fifth grade chorus members could get into. I was accepted and learned that practice would occur every Wednesday. On my first day, Mrs. Kipp was there, bright and happy, welcoming everyone in. It made me feel a lot more confident. Evidently, Mrs. Kipp is an extraordinary music teacher. She is filled with kindness and passion. She also teaches well and passes on valuable skills. I hope Mrs. Kipp knows how much her students need and admire her, and I will be sad to leave her for sixth grade. Every single day, I am so appreciative of her.


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