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Stronger

Mike Lawson • Commentary • July 10, 2012

By Nicole M. Denton

I have faced many difficult issues within my career. Not only did I walk away from playing the French horn with the American Band (a dream come true to play with fantastic people), but I also lost stability in my job due to financial problems in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and two mentor-friends passed away. RIMEA has lost two incredible people that have truly taught me the meaning of advocating for children: Ed Drew and Ron Stabile. How can I advocate when I am so down? How many more times can I let my advocacy team down?

Blink, blink, blink goes my cursor.

Then I hear it! My inspiration to keep music in the lives of my students and my children – my five-year-old playing the accordian my mother has given him! Yes, the accordion, and my seven-year-old playing the foam drum set that has tons of fun sounds. Together they are trying to form a rock band. Who am I to stop their creativity and wishful thinking of a future in a rock band?

At our last RIMEA Executive meeting, I told the Board that Bobby Rathbone and I will be presenting at the Connecticut Music Educators In-Service for an Advocacy session. Everyone was very pleased, but then I brought the group down stating that due to the financial situation among schools in Woonsocket, I was having a difficult time advocating for music at such a low point in my career.

Mark Colozzi looked at me and said, “The reason why we work in tough cities with struggling budgets is not for ourselves, but for the kids. Who will speak for the kids? You should never forget that.” Unfortunately I had forgotten such an important thing. There are moments in life that we need to be reminded of why we are here as music educators.

As musicians, where do we go to find strength when we feel so strung out and lost? The music! We are dedicated, hard working, emotional people with the best intentions. When the people who have brought us inspiration are physically gone, we can forget that they are forever with us in our music. I kept looking for my inspiration. I listened to many songs on the way to school, during school, in the movie theater, at sporting events and through teaching. As I listened to my students, I was inspired to work hard in my teaching but I still wasn’t feeling uplifted in music. Where was the fighter that wouldn’t give up no matter what? Where was the person who wouldn’t take no for answer?

I am sure everyone has had these moments many times in life – the a-ha moment. For me, it came when a student shared a project in class about her favorite musical artist. The musical artist was Kelly Clarkson and I was asking all the usual questions to keep the project moving along. The student told me she brought a song to play for the class. The song helped her get through her parents’ divorce. Usually I listen to the songs, but that Kelly Clarkson song was so great that I pressed play and then – bam! After the second refrain, I stopped the music and pressed replay. There it was, my inspiration!

Please read the lyrics slowly and carefully.

“Stronger”

by Kelly Clarkson

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Stand a little taller

Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.

What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter

Footsteps even lighter

Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger

Just me, myself, and I

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,

Stand a little taller

Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

And I’m back! Yes, I am! The big girl pants came on and even though I mentally knew why I was here (the kids), I became reenergized emotionally. Losing two friends, losing my job, walking away from something I loved more than I can express did not kill me, it made me stronger and I learned a lot from those experiences.

This is what I learned and I hope you can take something from this:

  • I need to get out of my own head and understand that life will throw many curveballs.
  • The students that I am blessed to be with everyday bring the inspiration to continue to make myself better than I am right now.
  • I did not choose this profession for money, but for making a child’s life more rewarding one moment at a time.
  • Whenever a student smiles, I have been given a gift that should be nurtured and cherished.
  • Do not abandon ship just because it is bad right now. Patience is truly important.
  • This is the biggest one: it is not about me! Knock off feeling pathetic, dust off my pants and get back to fighting because I have to be stronger for my students.

While I was walking my seven-year-old son into chorus rehearsal, I asked him what his life would be like without music. He stopped walking, looked at me and said, “I can’t imagine it, Mom. That doesn’t make sense and I wouldn’t be happy.” He looked confused for a while but the smile returned as soon as he started singing.

As you fight for your programs and your students, remember that we are important for the children of this country. Your tenacity, dedication, strong belief in the future of our children and love of music is what will keep music education alive in Rhode Island and throughout the U.S. Keep fighting to bring joy to all of our children that need and depend on us to bring joy to their lives.

This article was written with respect and total admiration for Ronald Stabile. Thank you for teaching me how to advocate for children. You have been and will forever be an inspiration to many lives.

Nicole M. Denton graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education in 1999, and she received her master’s in Education through the University of New England in 2005, while teaching elementary music in Woonsocket, R.I.

Currently, Nicole is the middle school band director for both Hamlet and Villa Nova buildings. She is the advocacy chair and secretary for the Rhode Island Music Education Association and a French hornist with Ocean State Summer Pops Orchestra.

She has spoken at four Music Education Conferences and is a true advocate for children.

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