Craig Matherne, Middle and High School Choir Director
Where did you go to college? What is your degree(s) or field of study?
Bachelors in Vocal Music Education at LSU; Master’s in Music Performance at University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music
What is the most interesting part of your job?
The most interesting part of my job is witnessing the students analyze the text of a song, imagine a way to sing that text in a manner that conveys the emotional content, and then develop the vocal technique to execute the singing.
What is one thing that you think makes Holy Cross School a special place?
The commitment to prayerfully ask God to guide us in our teaching and learning is the thing that makes Holy Cross School a special place. I believe that this commitment ensures that our students develop the skills to consider others before themselves and ultimately make choices in the classroom that allow for effective learning. I also believe that this commitment allows our faculty to see Christ in our students.
Tell us about your teaching philosophy.
In our music classes at Holy Cross, the students and I develop an exciting atmosphere. Early in the school year, I try to meet the students where they are: I choose many pieces that I think they might like, we listen to those pieces in class, and then the students write and explain which pieces they enjoyed hearing. I compare the students’ writings and pick music like the pieces that they enjoyed hearing in class, keeping their vocal ranges in mind.
At the same time, we begin learning about the technique of singing. We label each student’s vocal range and find music that mostly fits within their ranges (usually with one or two spots that challenge them to grow). Learning about the technique of singing and each student’s vocal range is one of the most important units in our class. When the students find a range in which they can comfortably sing, they begin to perform the music with energy, and they connect to the emotional content of the text. The students begin to look forward to the class because they know that they will have an enjoyable experience singing.
After learning about the technique of singing and vocal ranges, we begin developing music literacy. We learn how to read pitches and rhythms. We also learn about time signatures and expressive instructions in the music. This unit requires students to use skills developed in their Math classes to read rhythmic values based on fractions. Eventually, we study formal structures of music, which are like sentence structures in literature. This unit ultimately challenges our students to compose their own music and perform their compositions.
As the year progresses, the students receive more challenging music that does not always align with the pieces that they enjoyed hearing at the beginning of the year (this stretches the students’ perspectives). We analyze great recordings of these new pieces and discuss why the new pieces are worth singing. Then, we attempt to perform the new pieces, exhibiting some of the great qualities that we heard in the recordings. Next, we discuss the text of the pieces and find our own interpretation of these pieces, bringing out important lyrics. We also adjust the repertoire for each student if his vocal range changes. Often, the students perform in a music festival, judged by expert teachers who have taught successfully for many years at schools and universities.
My goal is for our students to leave with skills and experiences that encourage and allow them to find new music and to read and perform that music on their own. I teach my students to give new pieces a chance, rather than ignoring pieces that are not like the music that they usually enjoy. I want our students to finish their music courses with the ability to compose and perform their own music, ultimately using music as a language to communicate their interpretations of literature and the world around them.
“To me, teaching is the act of providing shoulders on which our students can stand as they learn skills and concepts in a focused, energized atmosphere. Sometimes, they do not stand on those shoulders right away; they might fall. At the beginning of the year, the students list qualities of music that they find exciting. I take that information and the standards and find music that is appealing and challenging. I give our students information and skills that I wish I would have learned earlier. Our over-arching goals are scaffolded into smaller skills, and the students usually achieve these at different paces, with more challenging activities for students who finish early. It is my goal that our students finish our vocal music classes with the confidence, flexibility, and experiences to teach themselves new skills and concepts, making them learners for life.” – Craig Matherne