Fremont/A.D. Hay music teacher Susane Davis is excited about the program that she has helped to grow at the school over the last couple of years; with help from the Lakeview Rotary Club and other organizations, she has been able to fulfill her dream of having enough keyboards in her classroom for every student.
Davis has only been working for Lake County School District #7 for approximately two years, but her love and enthusiasm for piano and music appreciation has made a major impact in the classroom.
Davis grew up in Turlock, Calif., and initially went to California State University – Stanislaus, Turlock, studying international business, and then switched to studying music and was awarded her bachelors of art degree from Sacramento State University, Sacramento, Calif. She then enrolled at the University of Oregon where she earned a masters in music pedagogy and shortly afterward opened her own private piano school in Eugene.
“I didn’t have a plan and did not think that music could be a career option, but when talking it over with family I knew I could do it and I switched to music with the goal of opening my own school,” said Davis.
She said her family was musically inclined and she began to show her interest in music when she was around five years old when she played the piano while her family was visiting a friend’s house. After that point she began lessons and was originally learning on an organ, but then switched to the violin for a couple of years. She always kept up with piano, though, an instrument she thoroughly enjoys and describes as one of the most versatile.
When she opened her school in Eugene, Davis already had experience teaching piano through private lessons. She began teaching young children when she was 18-years-old and she enjoyed it, but at that time did not know how she could turn it into a career. At her school in Eugene, which she operated for approximately 10-years before moving to the Plush area, she taught people of all ages and abilities — whether they were starting out or advanced repertoire.
“Teaching children, you can see it make a difference in their lives and how it builds up their confidence,” said Davis.
Making a change
Wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of a big city like Eugene, and wanting to be in a place with more sunshine, Davis — and her husband Jason — moved to Plush. Jason had known about the Plush area because he visited the region when he was younger with his dad. When Davis mentioned that she was looking for a change of pace, Jason told her that he knew the perfect place. When Davis first saw Plush she fell in love with the area. She said that living in Plush one has to make their own entertainment and their own hustle-and-bustle.
When she moved to the area she did not have a job with the district, but was told about the opening by a friend who encouraged her to apply. The job would allow her to teach students of all education and socio-economic backgrounds, and not just the ones whose parents can afford lessons, and she readily jumped on board and was offered the position.
When she first started, she told Fremont/A.D. Hay Prin. Susan Warner that she was going to switch from the recorder to the electric piano as it is more versatile and an instrument that she knows better. Warner agreed the change and Davis was able to use money that had been accumulating in the Associated Student Body (ASB) account to begin purchasing keyboards for her class. The money had been sitting there for the music program though it had not been used for quite some time. A couple of pianos were donated from community members. This gave her 13 pianos to use in her classroom, though she has generally close to 30 students, the rest play on other instruments such as xylophone.
She had a chance to make a presentation to the Lakeview Rotary Club at one of its lunch meetings about the program, her teaching philosophy, and her desire to get enough pianos for every student in her class. Members of the Rotary Club encouraged her to apply for a grant. Though the Rotary Club accepted her grant proposal, it was unable to award her the money as the group has had to cancel its fundraising events. With that funding shortfall, Mike McGowen of the Lakeview Rotary Club, submitted Davis’ grant application to the Oregon Community Foundation “GoKids!” program which awarded her $3,000 out of the $4,000 requested; the Rotary Club intends to cover the remaining $1,000. This should help Davis purchase the rest of the keyboards she needs.
Davis loves teaching students at the elementary school level and she teaches students from kindergarten through sixth grade. While she has only been doing it for a couple of years, one of her plans is to continually expand the knowledge of the students. For example, while students in third grade begin learning the basics of piano, she plans to continually build on their knowledge base over the next couple of years. That way when they are ready to go to Daly Middle School they are not only proficient in reading music and playing piano, they are able to switch to another instrument if they choose.
A major part of her teaching is not just teaching students how to read notes and play the piano, it is also helping them learn to appreciate music and the different genres and styles. Davis does not focus on any particular style, but works to bring a variety of works for students to hear, watch and listen; this includes classical, jazz, opera and more.
“I like to have an interesting and healthy dose of music appreciation in the class and then talk about the emotion we felt when we listened to the music,” said Davis.
One area that Davis has been pleasantly surprised by is the students enjoyment of classical and opera music. She said that the younger students enjoy the music that features the major and romantic chords — such as Beethoven — while the older students begin to enjoy the minor and darker chords more. She has played some opera for the class, and she has been surprised by the response from students — especially those who might not have been exposed to it before the class — and often the students want to know what happened in the rest of the work, especially the comedies.
“Reading music is like learning a second language. Research has shown that learning to read music leads to hire math and English scores, and students do better in college,” said Davis.
She also said reading music is like reading a book: it is a form of literacy. And in all her classes that is what she focuses on instilling. Whether it is working with K – 2 students by listening to music and learning to appreciate it, to starting in the third grade when students begin really working on the piano, Davis loves her job and lives for the “aha” moments that she gets to see every day in the classroom. Even though this year’s winter concert for the elementary school will be virtual, she is excited about the growth in the music program at Fremont/A.D. Hay, the support she has received from the administration, and the way her students have enjoyed the class.
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