A Difference through Music
Member Spotlight: Heather Nail
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 Teaching Music.
By Lisa Ferber
Heather Nail knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
The first winner of the winner of the Barbershop Harmony Society/NAfME Music Educator Award makes an impact with her teaching.
“My goal was to help make better human beings through music,” says the first recipient of the Barbershop Harmony Society/NAfME Music Educator Award. Nail grew up singing with her family and playing bass and clarinet in church, and originally planned to go into music ministry. But she decided during her first semester at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that she wanted to teach. “I realized the way to reach young people and make an impact was through teaching, and the people who had some of the biggest impact on me were teachers.” She notes that a music teacher often gets more time with the kids because of all the outside rehearsals and collaboration.
This Iowa resident by way of Nebraska has participated in and hosted the Barbershop Harmony Society Des Moines Chapter Pride of Iowa Festival workshops. She says that her involvement in barbershop music started as a partnership with Ed Bittle, who coordinated the festival workshops. She took her students to the festival and “had some ideas for potential changes, and we had the facilities to host.” Nail’s involvement grew from there. She is attracted to providing a variety of musical experiences for her students. “I think jazz and barbershop are two of the most American forms of music that we have. Barbershop is an important part of the fabric of our country’s musical identity.”
“I learn as much or more from the students than they learn from me, and it’s a place where they can collectively work together to create something beautiful.”
Nail is a member of NAfME and the Iowa Choral Director’s Association, and has been the Valley Southwoods Freshman High School vocal music director since 2010. She currently teaches ninth-grade boys and girls, and works with five choirs, including two jazz choirs and one 10th–12th-grade group. “I enjoy the fact that every day is different. I don’t know what to expect from one day to the next,” Nail says. “I learn as much or more from the students than they learn from me, and it’s a place where they can collectively work together to create something beautiful.”
In response to her winning this award, Nail says, “I’ve been lucky enough to build relationships in the community that support my students. It’s not anything I’ve done that makes me different than anyone else. I’ve been surrounded by the right people at the right time, and I think that means everything.”
And she offers sound advice for new teachers: “Take the time at the very beginning to get to know who your students are and what drives them. Don’t worry about the notes and the rhythms on the page. If they know you care about them, they will work hard for the notes and the rhythms on the page. Everything stems from having that relationship first.”
Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.