Catherine Chambers (she/her) is a Rowan University 2016 graduate who majored in Music Education: Vocal and Education: Subject Matter. She is currently the Vocal Music Teacher of the Performing Academy at Atlantic County Institute of Technology (ACIT). In addition to leading the vocal section of the Performing Arts Academy, Catherine has music directed the school musicals for more than five years. While teaching, she is currently working toward her master of music in choral conducting.
What made you choose Rowan? What made you choose music?
When I first started exploring colleges as a senior in high school, I really wanted to move far away from New Jersey and find my own way. I was set on not going to a state school, but I humored my mother and decided to tour the school. I immediately fell in love with Rowan’s campus. The environment was welcoming and as someone who was extremely social, I could just imagine myself fitting into this school very well. My thoughts on going to Rowan were very certain, but I didn’t stumble on music the same way.
I loved the idea of helping people and being there for people. My first thoughts were to be a Psychology major and I was accepted into the program! After I got my acceptance letter and I shared it with my high school music teacher, previous Rowan adjunct Arthur McKenzie, who kept telling me “I think that you should do music.” This was something I was extremely involved with in high school and I loved choir and I loved singing. I just wasn’t sure that I was equipped to do music as I have never had a voice lesson or studied the art of it.
He offered me to do a masterclass with a college professor from Rowan, Marian Stieber (head of the voice faculty), and told me to re-evaluate after I work with someone from Rowan. Well, he was right and I immediately wanted to work with her. I even asked her to allow me to join her studio if I was accepted into the music program and she assured me that she would love to work with me.
After some thought into how I wanted to study music, I decided that music education was for me. I loved choir, I loved the community that music had to offer students and I loved the idea that I could still be a support system for others by being a teacher. After I auditioned and was accepted into the program I was super fortunate for everything that followed. There’s never a day that I have thought about what it would have been like if I went to another school because Rowan gave me everything I needed and didn’t know I needed.
Were you involved with any extracurriculars or organizations in your time as a student?
As someone who felt very behind in the music world, I think Rowan helped me gain skills quickly and efficiently and I was super fortunate to be presented with so many opportunities. I had amazing teachers and coaches who helped me hone my skills and encouraged me to work hard and once music started to click, so many doors opened for me at Rowan. My mentors always introduced me to new opportunities. It was through them that I was given my very first voice student and my first paid gigs as a choral singer.
I really started taking to choir when I was accepted into the Concert Choir my sophomore year. By my second semester I was given section leader and from there I took my choral life pretty seriously. I became the president of Rowan’s Chapter of ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) and started to attend ACDA events around the U.S.
Aside from choral networking with ACDA, I was offered the opportunity to be a choral librarian which helped prepare me for what it would be like when taking care of a choral library of my own. I was also a founding member of Rowan’s top vocal ensemble, Voces. The Concert Choir also went on several trips overseas where we performed in places all over the world including Italy, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech and Hungary. Here I learned about music around the world and gained an experience unlike any other.
I didn’t take my first voice lesson until college so I felt very behind on my solo singing. Professor Stieber knew exactly what to do with me to get me to where I needed to be and she encouraged me to work hard to get there. She introduced me to opera and my life changed. I took to classical singing and I fell in love with how the music made me feel even more. I started participating in the Rowan Opera Company my freshman year of college and I never turned back. Being a part of this company allowed me to feel more confident not only as a singer but a stage performer as well. I went on to win second place in Junior women of the National Associations for Teachers of Singing competition (NATS).
My senior year, I was awarded the Orchestra Soloist competition through Rowan as well as Tacea La Notte Placida from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Here I was able to sing my first large solo work with a full orchestra. Though I received roles and small ensemble parts throughout my years at Rowan, I was given the opportunity to be the lead lady of my very last opera (Pamina in Mozart’s Magic Flute). This experience is something I will forever be grateful for.
Another experience I gained from Rowan was becoming one of the first vocalists in a pep band. We got to sing and perform for all the sports games, open houses and commencements. I loved being a face for the university to so many people. I loved performing with my friends and talking with others about the school at open houses.
My time at Rowan and my experiences have really shaped me and made me proud of the performer, singer and teacher that I am.
How did your experiences at Rowan shape the teacher you are today?
My music education courses helped me gain the knowledge I needed for every grade level. In my early childhood and elementary music education courses I learned what I needed to create a sense of music in children. In my secondary music education courses I honed the skills that it takes to be a choral director and how to manipulate a group of students’ voices in a healthy and sensible way.
Aside from my courses I think what shaped me to be the teacher I am today was watching all of my professors guide my classmates and myself. Watching someone work in a field where they are so passionate and so knowledgeable is inspiring and more educational than learning about it. I watched some of the best conductors, voice teachers, musicologists and performers share what they had in their toolboxes with us everyday to help us create our very own. Their kindness, generosity with their free time and knowledge is something I am not sure I could have received from another school.
What are your goals for the future? Anything specific you are working towards?
Music has become my entire life, and I have Rowan to thank for that. I went from watching my high school teacher be the person I wish to someday be to becoming that teacher for others was something I have always dreamed of. Once one dream is completed, another presents itself. Music is such a big part of my life that I’ve decided to keep going.
I am currently pursuing a master of music in choral conducting from Messiah University. With this degree I hope to be able to adjunct at colleges whether it be for choral music, music history, voice lessons, ANYTHING! I am sure passionate about every area of music and I will not stop with a master’s. I want to continue on to a doctorate in either vocal pedagogy or choral conducting. One day I hope to be a professor, just like all my professors at Rowan, that encourages students to be the very best that they can be and strive for greatness when passion drives you to do so.
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Story and photos by:
Nick Flagg, senior theatre and advertising double major
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