Toni Garza Prepares for a Career as a Music Educator

Toni Garza fell in love with teaching music while back in her home state of Texas and came to Berklee to pursue that dream.

May 8, 2013

While attending community college in her hometown of Lubbock, Texas, Toni Garza’s high school choir director recruited her to help first-year middle school music teachers launch their chorus programs. For Garza, who until that point had her sights set on becoming a choir conductor, this experience prompted her to pursue music education as a career.

She transferred to Berklee after a semester and embraced the music education program, from teaching at KidsJam at Cafe 939 to serving as the president of the Berklee chapter of the National Association for Music Education to volunteering for an after-school music choir in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Now the graduating senior is ready to write her next chapter. With a job lined up with Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program and her sights set on a possible future move to the music hub of Nashville to work for a program similar to KidsJam at Berklee, Garza is looking forward to teaching young children and getting them excited about music. She shared her thoughts about how teaching music often involved teaching life lessons; how Berklee has prepared her for a career in music education; and how the college’s music ed program is like a family.

The following is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.

How did you get interested in music?

I was four and I started taking piano lessons from a lady who lived across the street from my grandma. I didn’t really care for it too much. I wanted to be Selena. I was four or five when she was killed. I told my piano teacher, “I want to sing.” It turns out she was a singer and graduated in vocal performance. I took voice lessons from her from then on until I graduated from high school. It was awesome.

What got you interested in music education?

When I graduated from high school, I took a semester at a community college. While I was there, my high school choir director hired me to go to two middle schools to help first-year teachers start their chorus programs. I was starting to consider music education and that definitely gave me the confidence that I’m really good at this. I think I have a natural ability to talk to the children and they respond to me, which I didn’t realize doesn’t happen naturally for everyone.

When I have a roomful of 50 kids and they’re all looking at me and they’re all quiet and listening to what I have to say, I like that. They’re learning music and I love that. I’m sharing that gift with them. But it’s so much more about life lessons. And I think I’ve learned that a lot more through student teaching. Yes, the vehicle is music but what you’re really teaching is how to cooperate with each other, how to be nice.

What are your goals as a music educator?

At first I just wanted to conduct choir, to make beautiful music. But now I feel like I want to teach the younger children because I want them to understand that they can be creative and really have an outlet. I feel like kids today are so “in the box” and so concerned about what other people are saying about them and what they think about them. Yeah, you may have the same jeans as the person next to you or you might go to the same school, but musically you have something different already inside you that no one else can copy. It is uniquely your own. My goal is to let the students know that and just let them have fun.

Tell me about your Berklee experience.

Berklee is very unique in the fact that they make you take all music education classes. You have to learn how to play the trumpet, which was very interesting to me. And you have to play the piano, and you have to teach general music and you have to teach elementary, and learn how to conduct a band. Now all I want to do is teach pre-K. But it’s so nice because while I want to teach pre-K, I know I can teach whatever I want. I can do anything. The Berklee music ed program is set up so you have a variety of everything. The Berklee program is like a family. We support each other a lot. I think that has to do with the faculty; you can tell they really enjoy working together and I think that rubs off on us.

I had Libby Allison for Secondary Methods. She is truly amazing. She is constantly teaching you without ever actually showing that she’s doing it. It’s so wonderful because she asks all the questions that you never really think of. She never gives you a direct answer. It’s the most frustrating and the best thing about her. She gives you a broad perspective and encourages you to discover how you feel like you should teach music. It’s your own thing. She opens the door to let you pick and choose. We learned certain methods to teach music, such as Kodály and Orff. She told us, here are all of them. Pick what you like and you don’t like and go with it.

The psychology minor has also been awesome. (As part of that) I took two classes with Sally Blazar: Identity and From Boys to Men: Masculinity in Contemporary Society. I feel like if I hadn’t taken those classes I would not be the teacher that I am. She makes you really think about how other people perceive you and how much affect you can have on someone else, which directly relates to teaching.

Tell me about your student teaching experience.

I’m student teaching at the Heath School in Brookline (Massachusetts). They have several music teachers but the one that actually stays there and does general music teaches first through eighth grade. So I have first through fifth grade general music and sixth, seventh, and eighth grade chorus. But they also have a pre-K that is attached to the school and they don’t have music teachers so I started doing pre-K music this semester. I conduct choir standing on a chair and, for the younger kids, I do movement stuff.

How would you describe your teaching?
I think I pick and choose from everything and I think that’s because of Libby. Kids respond to different things. The school where I did my student teaching has a high percentage of autistic kids so it’s really interesting to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, what they respond to and what they don’t.

How have you incorporated the lessons you learned at Berklee into your student teaching?

That happens so often that I can’t pick just one example. It’s everything. I think you have to juggle a million things at one time. It never really set in until I started student teaching. I think probably every teacher I’ve had in music ed has said, “You have to be able to play the piano while talking, while cueing people to sing, while someone has to go to the nurse…It happened to me and I thought, “I get it now.” It’s all about multitasking.