Music in Our Schools Month Profile: Karen Waddell

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has designated March as Music in Our Schools Month. To celebrate, the jsquared music performance center will be sharing the stories of people who played instruments in grade school and the impact it made on their lives.

Today, we feature Karen Waddell. Karen is the Director of Bands and Elementary Music Teacher at the Academy for Discovery at Lakewood in Norfolk, VA. 

Karen Waddell

What instrument do you play?

Flute, Bassoon, and Bari Sax

At what age did you begin to play your first instrument?


Why did you start playing?

My mom was a band director, and I was always begging to play some of the instruments she had around the house. An older gentleman at my church heard me asking one Sunday, and gave me a flute that his daughter played when she was little. I spent three years playing flute before switching to the bassoon. In high school, my marching band needed a baritone saxophone player, so I stepped up to fill the void. 

What was your experience with music during your elementary, middle and high school years?

When I received my flute at 7, I began to learn to play my flute by ear. I picked up my flute and learned "Angels We Have Heard on High" within a few days. When my mom heard me play along with the recording, she started to give me my first lessons. My first band classes began in fourth grade, when I switched to bassoon. I studied bassoon all the way through middle school before switching to bari sax for marching band my freshman year in high school. I played bassoon through high school for concert season, and played bari sax for marching and eventually jazz band. Along with band, I participated in the Madrigal choir and sang in church. 

Who was your favorite music teacher? What made them your favorite?

I loved having my mother as my music teacher, and I learned so much from her. However, we didn't always get along, and I had problems separating the teacher from my mom, so she would normally find different teachers for me. During my first three years of college, John Windings was my teacher for everything music related. As the head of the music department at Shawnee Community College, John taught all of the band, chorus, private lesson, music history, and music theory classes. As much as I learned musically from him, I also learned life skills and lessons from him. John was a notoriously tough teacher, but tough only when you needed him to be. John refused to take anything less than your best, and pushed you to find the best musician and person you could be.He always finds the humor in everything, and kept spirits high. I try to be that person for my students. A motivator, a friend, and someone's favorite teacher. 

What is your favorite band memory from grade school?

Band not only gives a musical stress relief, but also comical relief many times as well. My teacher, Mrs. Ozier, stopped us one day in fourth grade rehearsal to correct some of our mistakes. While she was talking, she noticed a fly land on the top of her coffee cup. She told us that the best way to kill a fly was to clap above the fly, but the trick was to not knock the fly into the coffee. We literally stopped and watched her kill the fly and successfully keep it from falling into her coffee! Still to this day, I remember that every time I see a fly somewhere I don't want it to be!

Did you play an instrument in college? Did music impact your college choice?

During college, I played flute for my first two years of marching band, along with bassoon in concert band. After moving to Norfolk with my husband when he was first stationed at Naval Station Norfolk, I knew I had to find a school with a quality music program that would take me to my end goal of my music education degree. I auditioned at Norfolk State University with Ms. Stephanie Sanders, and I immediately felt at home. When the offer came through of a full scholarship, I knew it was meant to be! I not only earned my Bachelor's of Music Education through Norfolk State, but returned a year after graduation to begin my Master's in Music Education as well. 

What is your current occupation?

I am the Director of Bands and Elementary Music Teacher at the Academy for Discovery at Lakewood. ADL is the new Project Based Learning 3rd through 8th grade school in Norfolk. We are a International Baccalaureate Candidate school, and look forward to seeing what the school will succeed in the future due to the large administrative support of the music program!

How has music played a part in your adult life?

Music is my life! Being able to share my love of music with my students makes my job not feel like work at all! I wake up every day looking forward to seeing my students and sharing something new about music with them every day. I love the fact that I have the opportunity to teach elementary music along with middle school band. I truly get to see the cycle of musicianship continue through middle school, and I love seeing the light bulb moments with my students of all ages. 

How has music helped you in your current occupation?

Music truly is my life. Music is not only what I do, but it is what makes me happy. Through my singing and ability to play instruments, I find my sense of peace. I express my joy, sorrow, anger, and worries through my music. I also use my music to praise God for all the gifts He has given me. Music has given me my career. Music has taught me the self discipline, balance, scheduling, and professionalism that has landed me jobs and a spot in a competitive doctoral program. Finally, in the last three years, I have been able to share music with my daughter, and help her explore herself through music. 

What advice do you have for young musicians?

My favorite advice to give my students is to remember that music is unlike anything you will ever do in your life. Music is something that will teach you so many lessons, build you up, tear you down, and make you work harder than you have ever imagined. You will chase perfection, and sometimes will doubt what you are doing. However, music will reward you in ways that you will never imagine if you see it through. Stick through the hard times and you will see the rewards!


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