MENC 2010–2012 President-Elect Nancy Ditmer Looks Forward to Mobilizing Music Educators

In March, MENC members elected Nancy Ditmer MENC National President-Elect for 2010-2012. Ditmer is director of bands and professor of music education at The College of Wooster (Ohio). She will assume her new office on July 1, 2010, and will become MENC National President in July 2012.

Shortly after her election Ditmer said, “It is such a humbling experience to find myself in this position. I look forward to the challenges and the opportunities, and I will work hard to mobilize music educators at a grass roots level to accomplish the work of MENC.”

She added, “I will attempt to understand all facets of the many issues confronting our profession and our organization, with the ultimate goal of bringing people together for reasonable resolutions. In previous service, I have gained so much more than I have given, and I believe that will continue to be the case.”

Ditmer served as MENC North Central Division President (2002–2004), as president of the Ohio Music Education Association (1996–1998), and as editor of the Triad (1991–1993). A nationally known clinician and music educator, Ditmer was designated a 2008 Lowell Mason Fellow by MENC and received the 2006 Distinguished Service Award from the Ohio Music Education Association, among other honors during her career.

Prior to her appointment at The College of Wooster in 1984, Ditmer taught in the public schools in Arcanum and Versailles, Ohio. She is also the founder and director of the Wooster Music Camp, a summer program for middle and high school music students.

Ditmer recently reflected on her career and the MENC election.

Q: What are your thoughts on your selection as MENC President-Elect?

A: My passion for the importance of music and the arts in the education of young people has grown steadily throughout my years as a music educator. I would like to think that it is this passion that defines who I am and much of what I do professionally, from my real job at Wooster to the many volunteer activities that have consumed my time and energy outside of the classroom.

Q: Can you discuss how you came to like music? What role did it play in your early education?
A: I first became involved in music while growing up in the small town of Tipp City, Ohio where my first notable experience was probably when I started flutophone in the 4th grade. (If you don’t know what a flutophone is, check out the Funky Winkerbean comic strips about flutophone classes.)

Something about playing that flutophone inspired me to further my music education, so I started to beg my mother for piano lessons. To this day, I have no idea how she did it, but my then-35 year old, recently widowed mother of three young girls managed to buy a piano, find a teacher, and get me started with lessons.

Of course, within about 3 months I figured out that you had to practice to learn to play the piano, so I immediately started to beg her to let me quit the lessons. Mom wasn’t about to give in, so both the begging and the piano lessons continued into the 5th grade and beyond when I became fascinated with playing the flute and being a part of the band program.

At that time Stewart King led the band program. He was not only an excellent musician and teacher, but one who generously provided enrichment opportunities outside of the high school band program. Because of his encouragement and support, I was able to play in such groups the OMEA Southwest Regional Orchestra, and the Dayton Youth Orchestra.

He also got me started teaching private lessons as a high school student and sent lots of students my way during my college years, so thanks to him I not only had a great foundation in music and teaching, but I also never had to get a summer job working in a fast food restaurant.
Q: So, your private lessons helped convince you that you wanted to pursue a music education career? 

A: There was never any question in my mind that I would become a teacher, because that is what almost everyone in my family does. My mother, grandmother, aunt and uncle, and both sisters are or were teachers in various educational settings. My niece is an assistant principal in the New York City Public Schools and her brother will probably someday be a teacher once he finishes using his philosophy degree to contemplate what life would be like if he were a teacher.

Q: What role did other music educators play in your career?

A: I had great teachers at Capital University [Columbus, Ohio], and at the University of Iowa [Iowa City] who instilled in me a deep appreciation for music as both an art and a craft. They also firmly implanted in me the notion that service to the profession was not an optional activity.

I started my career teaching middle school general music, choir, and band in utopian Arcanum, Ohio, where two of the three principals were former music teachers, the superintendent’s children played in the band, high school band met for 90 minutes every day, and of course all the children were above average.

Q: What has it been like teaching at The College of Wooster? You have had distinguished career there.

A: My 26 years at Wooster have been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. There is something about Wooster that is different from anyplace else I have ever been and it’s not just the bagpipes and the kilts. If you spend a little time here, you develop a condition where your blood runs plaid. You can’t go anyplace without meeting someone else with a Wooster connection.

The students continue to challenge me with their intellect, talent, energy, and terrific senses of humor. I cannot imagine a better place to spend a lifetime making music with young people who have made me proud of who they are and what they have accomplished.

Q: What prompted you to pursue MENC national office?

A: I was encouraged to consider running for this office by my friend, professional colleague, and a past president of the Ohio MEA, William Anderson. Bill is a terrific writer, researcher, and musician who is also blessed with the power of persuasion. He presents ideas in ways that make it difficult to say “no” and it really was his support and encouragement that caused me to think seriously about agreeing to be nominated.

The process used in this election was quite different from past practice, and to be honest, it was a little intimidating. The four finalists gave 10 minute speeches and answered questions for the delegates at the National Assembly last summer during Music Education Week in Washington [in 2009].

The four of us agreed that we were a part of a large experiment, so our group adopted the name The Four Guinea Pigs and had some fun with that. Overall, however, I think we would all agree that the process was a good one in need of only minor tweaking. I certainly feel that it gave the attendees first hand knowledge of each potential candidate and therefore some ownership in the process, hopefully resulting in more informed and engaged voters.

Q: Do you have anything to say to other music educators?

A: I challenge each and every music teacher to keep the torch lit for music education and to work together to insure that students for generations to come will have outstanding musical experiences as a central part of their education.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Ditmer; Second photo by Becky Spray

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Roz Fehr, May 12, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education