Music in Our Schools Month Profile: Shawn Zachery

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 stories of people who played instruments in grade school and the impact it had on their lives

Today, we feature Shawn Zachery. Shawn is an IT Systems Analyst.

Shawn Zachery

What instrument do you play?

Clarinet, Dance

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


Why did you start playing?

My entire immediately family is musical. Everyone played instruments or was involved in music or marching bands in some way. My father was an incredible music enthusiast. My mother was a majorette at Southern University in the 50s. My sister played piano and flute. My brother played Trombone in the SU Marching Band and was recognized by being selected to the McDonald's All American Band while in High School. I grew up with the family of Dr. Isaac Greggs, legendary director of the Southern University Marching Band. So it was normal that I would want to play an instrument. It was expected that I would play an instrument. 

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

I started playing the clarinet in 4th grade because it was the only instrument that my mother could borrow for me. We couldn't afford to buy an instrument. I didn't really realize how good I could become until Middle School under the tutelage of Ms. Colette Riha. She was able to make me a really good clarinet player and cultivated my love for instrumental music. In High School, I joined the marching band and played in the Concert Band and Wind Ensemble, where I ultimately became section leader. The cool thing was that I was learning under my second female band director. Ms. Catherine Heard was like a 2nd mother to me. She taught me a lot more than music. And since my mother was busy working and couldn't always make our performances, Ms. Heard took me under her wing. She taught me how to be a leader. She identified me as someone that she could trust to do just about anything. I played in the horn line my Freshman year but she asked me to twirl flag because she felt I would be good at it. I didn't want to twirl flag because I had set my sights on being Drum Major and felt that being on the Flag Corp wouldn't allow me to do that. However, even as a Flag twirler, I received the most votes from my peers and was named Drum Major of my marching band my senior year. I was the first African American Drum Major in the history of Baker High School in Baker, LA. I also was honored to be selected for the Louisiana All-State Concert Band and the Ark-La-Tex Tri-State Honor Band my senior year at Baker High. 

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

Ms. Catherine Heard was, by far, my favorite music teacher. She didn't hold back or give me special treatment. She always pushed me and had very high expectations for me. She entrusted me to grow into a leader and was always there to correct me when I was going in the wrong direction. Her efforts to turn me into a leader were more memorable than anything she taught me musically. 

What is your favorite band memory from grade school?

My favorite band memory from grade school was at Baker High School when I auditioned for and was selected for the Louisiana All-State Band. I was the only one from my school that was selected that year. My band friends got an idea in their heads, drove to my neighborhood (in the "Black" part of town) and tee-pee'd my house and front yard with toilet paper and a huge sign that said "Congratulations! We love you". I will NEVER forget that. My neighbors actually watched them tee-pee my house and yes, I had to clean it up all by myself the next day.  

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

Music did not impact my college choice because oddly enough, my college choice did not have women in the marching band at the time, and I chose to go there anyway, knowing that I'd only get to play in Concert Band. I did continue to play clarinet in Southern's concert band although I wanted to march so badly!! I was section leader and the guys did not like that at all. But I guess it was all for a good reason because I was introduced to HBCU Dance while at Southern. I kind of accidentally became a Dancing Doll, which was the start of me doing what I love to this day. 

What is your current occupation?

Currently I am an IT Systems Analyst. After majoring in Computer Science I started my career at IBM and I've been in the field for almost 28 years. 

How has music helped you in your current occupation?

Music has helped me to be more analytical and organized which is a must in this field. In music, you learn  how to interpret non-verbal communication which has helped me on projects where I have been a supervisor or manager. Music helps you with memorization and other cognitive skills needed for this field. Most importantly, music is my outlet from what can sometimes be a stressful field. 

How has music played a part in your adult life?

I'm still involved in music today. It's the one thing that I can count on to put me at ease when I'm stressed, make me feel happy when I'm down. I'm still involved with marching bands as a dance team coach. I absolutely LOVE marching bands. It gives me something to look forward to. I also still play my clarinet in small ensembles for small performances for special occasions. I'll continue to play for as long as I can. 

What advice do you have for young musicians?

Stick with it. Truly learn and perfect your craft. Don't give up because the beginning of learning how to play an instrument may seem boring at first, or may move too slowly for today's millennial. It's not always instant gratification. It takes time and dedication. But it's TOTALLY worth it. Playing all those whole notes and scales may not get you the applause you're looking for, but it will make you the absolute best musician around. Find joy in getting better with each lesson. 

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