New NAfME President Understands Music Educators’ Challenges

New NAfME President Understands Music Educators’ Challenges


Denese Odegaard has a “great passion for music education and providing the best experiences for students.” She will serve as the 2016–18 President of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). She is currently the Fargo (North Dakota) Public Schools Performing Arts Curriculum Specialist, after having taught orchestra for 33 years.

She knows that music teachers face many challenges, and she shares her views on growing up with music as well as music teachers, music education, and NAfME.

orchestra director

What are your earliest memories of listening to music? What kind of music did you like growing up?

Because I came from a musical family and a community with three colleges, there were many opportunities to enjoy the opera, symphony, college recitals, and more. I think my passion for listening to music began early in junior high because of the wide variety of music studied in school along with the concerts in our art-rich community. I had a piano teacher who shared my love of baroque music, which became my favorite listening pleasure.  

Over the past several years you’ve been elected to state, division, and now national office within NAfME and its Federated State Associations. You’ve also written music education publications. What moved you to serve the music education profession as well as in the classroom? 

I’ve always had a sense of service beginning with our community symphony board when I was 20 years old during my first year of teaching. We often don’t realize the importance of asking young people to serve, and I’m not sure the sequence of serving would have not had the same end result had someone not asked that first time. The work we did made a difference in music education and experiences.  I was fortunate to be able to serve on both the ASTA and NAfME boards, which give a broad perspective of music education across the United States.

I also have a great passion for music education and providing the best experiences for students. Several of us in the district felt the same way and began to “lead from the middle,” encouraging other staff down the path of Standards-based instruction and assessment. My classroom became a daily “action research” project by incorporating one new Music Standard at a time, learning what works, and incorporating new strategies to improve student work.

Eventually, I wanted to share these strategies with others and began to present conference sessions.  These sessions led to invitations to contribute to several publications and eventually putting all of my best practices into my own publications.

What convinced you to study strings and go into the classroom as an orchestra teacher?

“In 5th grade, we were offered the opportunity to study strings, and orchestral music spoke to my heart.  In junior high, I knew I wanted to teach junior high orchestra and did so for 33 years. I loved going to orchestra class and wanted other students to have that same wonderful experience.”

NAfME operates under a Strategic Plan that includes a Mission, a Vision, and Values. These values include: “Community; Stewardship; Comprehensiveness; Inclusion; Equity, and Innovation.”

You worked with the Association’s national, state, and division leaders to develop the 2017–22 Strategic Plan. For your presidency, is there one particular value that you see as a focal point?

In our discussion of values, it became evident that these are all important to the survival and progression of music education. These values all support our mission, “To advance music education by promoting the understanding and making of music by all.”

We also need to collaborate. We don’t work in silos of band, orchestra, choir, general music, etc. We need to be supportive of each other for the one result of helping students become lifelong musicians and music lovers. We need individual teachers to advocate for their programs; we need state MEAs to work with NAfME to move music education forward; we need keep the focus on students; and we need to give of our time and talents to do the work of the Association. We are all responsible for the well-being of music education on a district, state, and national . We all need the tools to reach each and every student in our classroom and we’re all responsible to reach every student in our classrooms.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge that music educators face today? How do you believe NAfME can help?

I believe there are two distinct challenges that music educators face today:

  • The demands put on all educators to teach to the Standards, the rigor of the evaluation process, the changing demographics of the students, and the lack of funding and time. NAfME can teach teachers strategies for the first three areas through best practices by successful teachers and give them the tools to advocate for what they need for their programs through our Opportunity-to-Learn Standards and Broader Minded® materials. We have a lot of supports in place and need to continue to present these materials in our publications, via our newsletters and at conferences. We can also solicit new and innovative ideas for teaching and present them at conferences and in webinars. We have a lot of forward-thinking members who are constantly improving music education, and we need to tap into their expertise.
  • Isolation.  Whether you are the only music teacher teaching K–12 music in your community or a brand-new teacher without a mentor, it’s difficult to face the challenges mentioned in the first point without help. Having mentored 1–5-year teachers, I’ve found that even the best people struggle with the challenges they encounter, and having a sounding board is most valuable to keep them positive about their profession. Having other points of view and the voice of experience can help them understand how to maneuver through challenging times and to keep their focus on educating students.

You mentor young music teachers in your district. Is it a formal program, and why do you think that mentoring is important?

Our district believes in mentoring every new teacher to our district. The mentees get weekly meetings, or meetings every two weeks lessons are observed and videotaped, they set goals and reflect on them, and observe veteran teachers while in the program.

Within the meetings, we discuss four areas:  what is going well, what are current concerns, what are the mentees’ next steps, and what are the mentors’ next steps to complete before the next meeting.

What I find most beneficial for mentees is the ability to discuss what has happened in their classroom and get feedback on what they are doing well or to give assistance where they are struggling.  I have seen beginning teachers become empowered to be very effective instructors in their classrooms because mentoring fills the gaps in learning for new teachers and assists with the biggest area of need—classroom management.” 

What would you most like other music educators to know about music education programs, and music teachers in North Dakota?

Because we are a rural state, we have many masters at teaching K–12 music. They know how to adapt music to fit the instrumentation or voicings of their performing groups. These teachers could easily move to a bigger community to teach, but they c hoose to stay and be the person to bring music opportunities to their students and communities.

They are often the music teachers and worship music coordinators who spend incredible hours preparing, teaching and running the worship music program. For a small state, we have many college and universities offering music education programs. We have seven communities with orchestras that have thousands of string players. Lastly, we have a growing number of young people getting involved in our state leadership and doing a great job.  Our communities value, support, and provide arts for the public.


Roz Fehr, NAfME Member Outreach Specialist, July 28, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (