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Strike Up the Band: U-M Alumni Teachers Dominate In Music Classrooms Across Michigan

Strike Up the Band: U-M Alumni Teachers Dominate In Music Classrooms Across Michigan

Story shared with permission from Sydney Hawkins, Arts and Culture Communications Manager, University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR—Chances are good that if you or someone you know has taken a music class in Michigan in the last 70 years, it was taught by a University of Michigan graduate.

More than 400 U-M alumni are now at the helm of hundreds of elementary, middle and high school music classrooms across the state of Michigan.

Boasting one of the oldest music education programs in the country, the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance is considered a national leader in preparing successful music pedagogues for 21st century challenges. For many years, there has been a 100-percent job placement rate for U-M graduates hoping to begin a career as a music educator.

“Beyond our incredible placement numbers in Michigan, you can find many of our alumni teaching in public schools in each of the 50 states, and in many countries around the world,” says Michael Hopkins, associate professor and chair of the music education department. “It is rare that I go to a conference anywhere across the U.S. and do not run into someone who graduated from our program.”

Each year, SMTD’s Department of Music Education accepts about 15-20 new undergraduates in a competitive audition process, according to Colleen Conway, professor of music education.

“What’s really unique about our program is that, musically, our students are incredible—the educators that we’re producing are top-notch performers who also want to become music teachers,” said Conway, who has been teaching at U-M for nearly 20 years.

“The students I’ve had here get really fired up about changing the world, and they see beyond the music a little bit and understand that what they’re doing will change lives. I can’t put my finger on what that is—maybe it’s the energy of campus or the way that Michigan encourages them to think beyond their little piece of the world.”


Kellie and Joe McInchak as students in the marching band at the University of MichiganKellie (BM ’02) and Joe McInchak (BM ’02) met in the Michigan Marching Band in 1998.

She played the clarinet. He played the trombone. If it weren’t for the fact that there are only a select club of music majors who are also in the Michigan Marching Band each year, it’s possible that Kellie (BM ’02) and Joe McInchak (BM ’02) may not have formed such a strong bond during the 1998 season, which also happened to be their freshman year at U-M.

“We were a couple before the end of the first semester, and we’ve been together ever since,” said Kellie, who said that she and Joe married in 2004, just two years after graduation.

The two are now a husband and wife co-teaching team at Tecumseh Schools, a small rural district in southeast Michigan where they work with band students in grades 5-12.

Kellie, who started giving clarinet lessons to younger kids before she graduated high school, has always wanted to be a music teacher. She currently teaches band in 5th, 6th and 7th grades.

“What I really love about working with the band, which is quite different from many other teaching assignments, is that we really get to form a strong connection with these kids over the course of many years and watch them grow,” she said. “What really drives me to teach these days is that music is something that helps kids to become more like themselves instead of everybody else.”

The McInchaks, who have three young children of their own, Andrew, Leo and Claire, both worked at various schools—Kellie at Western High School and Middle School in Parma, and Joe at Elmwood Park High School in Chicago and North Farmington High School in Michigan—before bringing their practice together nearly four years ago in Tecumseh.

Joe and Kellie McInchak co-teach band learners at Tecumseh Compass Learning Center

Photo courtesy: Roger Hart, Michigan Photography

While working side-by-side at school and at home might prove challenging for many couples, Joe says that the opportunity has been a dream come true.

“We’d always talk about maybe working together formally one day,” said Joe, who is the high school band director. “Though we worked at different schools prior to being at Tecumseh, we’ve constantly collaborated on some level; it’s the way we’ve always operated as a couple.”

In addition to teaching middle and high school students, Kellie (BM ’02) and Joe McInchak (BM ’02) co-teach 5th grade at Tecumseh Public Schools.

The McInchaks have maintained strong ties to U-M, mentoring student teachers from the music education program over the years, and bringing their own students on annual field trips to campus.

“We’ve never been too far away from Ann Arbor,” said Kellie, who mentioned that the couple brought their own kids to their first Michigan Football game last year. “The football game was great, but we were especially excited for them to see the marching band.”

Read the full article online on the University of Michigan's website.

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