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Teacher has been touching lives with music for 30 years

By: Amanda Karioth Thompson, COCA | September 13, 2017

Imagine that every seat in Ruby Diamond Concert Hall is occupied by a child. Now triple that and you’d begin to get a sense of how many young lives music teacher Blair Clawson has touched in his 30 years at Sealey Elementary School. More than 3,500 students have made their way through his classroom and Clawson said “even after all these years, I love coming to work and teaching kids to be musicians.”

Though times have changed and educational models have come and gone, Clawson stays true to his overarching teaching philosophy of providing his students with the building blocks for a life-long love of music. “I want to give them the tools where they can be successful at whatever they decide to try, whether it’s a Celtic group, a folk group, a rock group, a church group, whatever.”

Clawson has found that one of the best ways to support his emerging musicians is to provide a balance between individual and group learning experiences. And it doesn’t hurt if they’re fun. “When you get a game and everybody is playing it in synch in the classroom, everyone finds communal joy there and you’re developing your own talents individually as well.”

While encouraging his students’ sense of play and exploration, Clawson stresses that scholarship is an important part of artistic development that helps to set up inquisitive habits for study and a growth mindset. “I try to put an emphasis on having a classroom environment that is supportive, it’s rigorous but not critical in the negative sense, it’s critical in the academic sense.”

“We have a sequential, structured, scaffolded curriculum, that grows year by year just like any other subject areas does. There is a body of knowledge and a set of skills that pertain to music. It’s like speaking a foreign language where you can have subtleties, nuances, and inflections in the music that are not verbal but are still powerful and communicative.”

His students feel that power and are delighted to discover another way to express themselves. Third-grader Kherington Smith enjoys being able to use her voice and movements to communicate and she believes that “songs help you share your feelings.” Her friend Dallas Robinson said that singing “in different ways makes me feel like I’m having a moment.”

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