Q&A Spotlight: Inspiring Story of Blind Music Teacher - Alfred Music


By Kyle Conley | April 9, 2018

Article from Alfred Music


"I enjoy sharing my story since I want people to realize that you do not have to see to be a successful teacher."

Though blind since birth, Kyle Conley never lost sight of his passion for learning, teaching, and playing music. Born prematurely at just 23 weeks, and given only a 10% chance of survival, Kyle, now 28 years old, defied all odds and is currently making a career out of doing what he loves: teaching music. We recently spoke with Kyle to learn more about his background, influences, and experiences, and to share his advice for other teachers who face similar challenges, or have students with disabilities. 

When did you first discover your passion for music? 

I started out as a musician at 4 years old when my parents placed me in a music therapy program at the Cincinnati Association of the Blind.  I played piano for 5 years before I picked up the violin at age 9.  I also joined the Cincinnati Boychoir at age 9 and it changed my musical life forever.  After I moved on from the boychoir, I played in many orchestras and continued in many choirs through high school and college.

When I was in the Cincinnati Boychoir, I was able to learn every part since I have perfect pitch, and I was often called upon to lead sectionals, even for sections I was not singing in at that time.  I knew right then that I wanted to be a music teacher.  I currently teach elementary music at St Louis School in Owensville, Ohio 2 days a week.

How did your teachers inspire and motivate you, despite challenges you faced?

When I was in high school, I had one of the best orchestra directors in Ohio.  She worked with me to learn the parts, and I learned so many teaching tricks from her that I still apply in my general music classes.  She gave me the confidence and the drive to choose music teaching as my career.  While I was at Wright State University, I learned that I would be the first blind music student to complete the program from start to finish, and that gave me even more drive that my goals could and will be accomplished.

What's your best piece of advice for other teachers?

If you ever feel that you are not successful, which we all have those days sometimes, sit back and relax.  Look back on your successes as a teacher, and not that day that everything seemed to go wrong.  I can give a great example.  Last year, I was a long-term sub for orchestra and choir classes in a West Virginia school district.  I set high goals for my students, and my choir students were set to perform the Chichester Psalms by Bernstein.  My junior high students loved it, and they only had 25 minutes to rehearse the piece with me due to scheduling problems.  My high school students on the other hand did not like it so much, and I had to work with them twice as hard, even with 20 more minutes in each class.  A lot of them were not used to this style or complexity of music, whereas my junior high students did not know anything different since a lot of them had not sung in choir before.  

My classes were small, 17 in each group, but they had a big sound.  That is why I knew they could make such a big piece sound so good.  I had one student who was so dedicated, she memorized the 44 pages of Hebrew in 3 weeks, and she was a seventh grader!  I think she helped to motivate the rest of the class, while I had a high school student go on a rant about how the music was too hard and we would never be able to sing it.  When we combined for a dress rehearsal, I almost cried.  They sung that music so beautifully, and it was an amazing performance.  Was every note, word and rhythm correct? No, but they proved my point that if you have a group of students that is dedicated, and if we do not give up as teachers, we can put together almost anything that we want to do.

What advice can you give to teachers who might have visually impaired students?

If you have students who might have a visual impairment, or any kind of disability, make sure you find out exactly what they need and how you can, best serve them in class.  My high school orchestra was a prime example of that.  My director and I would talk about how she could best help me, and she would record my parts for me so I could practice at home.  She even gave me music to take to my private lessons, which was helpful especially on the more challenging pieces.  She would always sit in on my IEP meetings, even though she was not always needed.  She just wanted to be there to support me.

How have you made a difference in your students' lives?

As I mentioned earlier, I had a student memorize the entire Chichester in a short time she would later tell me that I changed her life for the better and she would never have another teacher like me. She wanted to make a difference in people’s lives just as I had made in hers. That was impactful for me, knowing that even with that one student; we can make a difference as teachers for our students. I enjoy sharing my story since I want people to realize that you do not have to see to be a successful teacher. I cannot tell you the number of times that students would stay after class to help with logistical things. I had students last year that took a shorter lunch period to come down to label chairs for a combined rehearsal. They just wanted to make sure that we had as smooth of a rehearsal as we possibly could.


Kyle Conley has been playing piano for 24 years and violin for 19 years, and performing in orchestras and choirs since the age of nine. Kyle is currently in his first year of teaching at St. Louis Elementary School where he teaches kindergarten through eighth grade general music and choir. He previously taught in Williamstown, West Virginia, where he taught orchestra and choir classes. 




Music Teacher's Guide to Wrapping Up the School Year - Alfred Music

By Karen Farnum Surmani | April 23, 2018

Article from Alfred Music


As the school year comes to a close, music teachers are making end-of-the-year lists and checking them twice before they head off into the summer sun. No matter what level you teach, or whether you have choral, band, or general music students, many end-of-the-year duties tend to be universal. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Audition next year’s ensemble personnel. This way you know their strengths and can choose music and performance opportunities that will highlight them. Having the luxury of time away during the summer to dream of what you’ll do with those ensembles next year can be inspiring.

2. Ask students to give advice to incoming students. This can bolster the newbies’ confidence and help ease their transition into your program. Likewise, ask your students which learning activities were their favorites. You might be surprised at the responses!

3. Research and consider writing and submitting grant proposals to bolster or spiff up your program. Many professional organizations, foundations, and corporations sponsor grants. A simple internet search of “music program grants” will bring up several results to get you started.

4. Take inventory, finalize budget requests, and order supplies for next year. Replenish the consumables, but also try to order some new things to use, whether it be music, books, posters, or instruments. If you can consistently challenge yourself by trying out some cool, innovative materials or techniques, it will help keep teaching fresh and fun for you, which in turn will benefit your students.

5. Clean instruments and materials before storing them in a safe place for the summer. If possible, host a cleaning afternoon and enlist students to help. If there are items that need to be repaired, arrange to have that done over the summer.

6. Clean and organize your classroom. File away music, lesson plans, concert programs, worksheets, and other materials. Get rid of any extra supplies or resources that are outdated or just plain clutter so you can return to an ordered work space in the fall.

7. Take some time to reflect on the past year and think about what worked and what didn’t work in your performances or general instruction program. Some ideas to consider:

  • What would you like to do differently next year?
  • How can you make things more enjoyable for you or the students?
  • Were you happy with your classroom management style?
  • Do you want to include time for some brief music theory or music history instruction in your classroom?
  • How can you increase recruitment?
  • What was a favorite lesson or moment?

For instance, perhaps it was pure magic to add American Sign Language (ASL) to a particular group’s performance—or that new piece was fabulous but could have benefited from more rehearsal time—or maybe you need to remember to take time to rehearse walking on and off stage with next year’s group to avoid a repeat of the stampede from this year. Make some notes about both the highs and lows of the past year and write down suggestions to yourself to read in the fall, because you are likely to forget in the glow and flurry of the new school year.

8. Say goodbye to colleagues and the office staff, then book that relaxing vacation and say hello to summer!

January Vocal Shows at the Peace Center


Start the month off with a recital from acclaimed mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught. Experience a range of choir pieces from medieval chanting to recent hits with New York Polyphony. Then, end the month with contemporary a cappella and beatboxing in GOBSMACKED!

Free master class opportunities to observe area students work with visiting artists are available for select performances.

To get $15 student tickets or learn more about master classes, please contact us.

Tara Erraught: In Recital
January 12 at 7 PM • Gunter Theatre | $45
Free Master Class on January 11 at 5 PM
Acclaimed for her rich voice, expansive range, and dynamic stage presence, Irish-born mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught enjoys an ever-growing international career and a wide operatic repertoire.

New York Polyphony
January 20 at 8 PM • Gunter Theatre | $45
Free Master Class on January 20 at 3 PM
“Singers of superb musicianship and vocal allure” (The New Yorker), two-time Grammy® nominated New York Polyphony gives vibrant, modern voice to repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to cutting-edge compositions.

January 22 at 7:30 PM • Peace Concert Hall | $15-$35
Featuring reigning world-champion beatboxer Ball-Zee and an international cast of world-class vocalists,GOBSMACKED! weaves through all forms of a cappella, from traditional street corner harmonies to cutting edge, multi-track live looping.

864.467.3032  •  groups@peacecenter.org

7 Things You’ll be Judged on During College Music Auditions

College professors will gather as much information about prospective students as possible to determine if the student will be a good fit for their program. For students, the college audition process can be a scary endeavor with a lot of unknowns. The following areas of consideration are designed to help you better understand the audition process more fully and are presented in no particular order:

Finding the Perfect Flute at the Perfect Price

Have you ever tried to saw wood with a dull saw blade? Or tried to use a butter knife instead of a screwdriver?

While the job may get done, how much energy was wasted, and how much frustration ensued? This is what your young band student may be experiencing as he or she progresses, if his or her instrument is not appropriate for the player’s level.

Why Mouthpiece Test?

One of the best ways to help a band director to ensure his new students’ success in band, and to ensure they stay in band, is to do careful and detailed mouthpiece testing, or “play testing,” as some retailers call it. If you take your time to do this, you will begin to build relationships with the beginning students and their parents, and help your band program a take a huge step forward at the same time.

An Open Letter to Parents of Future Band and Orchestra Students

Congratulations! Your child has chosen to start band or strings class this fall! This is exciting! But naturally, you are also apprehensive – “How much will this cost?” “Will my child like it?” “How do we choose the right instrument?” “Will my child stick with it? After all, he’s tried karate, gymnastics, piano, and soccer ... and quit them all.”  “Does my child even have any musical ability?”

Music Educators: Back To School 2017

A new school year, and with it the long days setting drill on the hot pavement, the squeaks and splats of new beginners, and the craziness of back to school time. But we also see the camaraderie grow within those marching ranks, and the excitement on the faces of those new beginners when they see their new instruments for the first time. This is what keeps us coming back year after year. Not only coming back, but looking forward to doing what we love best - teaching music.

Leenman, SC Businesswoman Awarded 2017 She Rocks! Award

ANAHEIM, CA — Tracy E. Leenman, owner of Musical Innovations of Greenville, SC, has been named winner of the 2017 She Rocks Eneterprise Award by the Women’s International Music Network (WiMN). The award was presented on January 20, 2017, in Anaheim, CA, as part of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) annual winter Trade Show. One of the most prestigious and recognized events honoring women in the music industry today, the She Rocks Awards pay tribute to women who display leadership and stand out within the music industry.