Educator Spotlight: Alex Looney

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Educator Spotlight: Alex Looney

alex looney

March 17, 2022

For the third installment of our Music in Our Schools Month series, we had the opportunity to speak with Alex Looney (pictured far left) about his experiences, what choir looks like in 2022, and why music education is so important to him.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as an educator

“My name is Alex Looney, and I am in my sixth year of teaching. I am blessed to be in my fifth year as the choir director for East Holmes Local Schools in Berlin, OH where I teach grades 5-12 at four buildings in the district. I teach middle/high school choirs at Hiland High School/Middle School, class piano, music theory, general music for special needs students, and elementary choir classes (grades 5-6) at Berlin, Walnut Creek, and Winesburg Elementary. I also co-direct the high school musical, assistant direct the spring play, and advise the National Honor Society. I live in Wooster, OH, am working on an MMME at Ohio University, and attend Grace Church in Wooster. I feel extremely blessed and grateful to do what I do on a daily basis!”

When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?

“I always knew I wanted to be an educator. My mom is a high school Spanish teacher, and I grew up helping her at school, observing her classes, and witnessing how much passion she has for teaching and shaping lives. I decided I wanted to pursue music education my senior year in high school. The arts have been an incredibly prominent part of my life since I was young. The Lord revealed how many life changing experiences I had in the arts when I was a senior in high school. It was very clear that this was the path to pursue. I started off as a dual major in both instrumental and choral music education and then decided to focus on choral music education my junior year of college while still staying involved with the band department.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“Having the opportunity to teach students on a daily basis. That is truly the joy and blessing of the job. Teaching any discipline is demanding. Having the opportunity to teach students to sing, to find joy in music, to acquire music literacy skills, and to be future contributors of society is a huge blessing. Each new piece of music is like a new adventure or journey. Witnessing the journey from start to finish on a piece of repertoire is so powerful. Are there stressful and challenging days? Yes. Are there joyful, successful, and inspiring days? Yes. All of these days shape you and help you continue to learn and grow.” 

"Each new piece of music is like a new adventure or journey." Click To Tweet

Is there anything that makes your program or your teaching style unique?

“It is truly special that I have the opportunity to lead students through the choral program from grades 5-12. I have the ability to start a student in fifth grade and see some students through their senior year of high school. This investment over several years makes this position very impactful and rewarding. Our choral program at East Holmes Local Schools is very active. We give several concerts per year, perform for solo and ensemble and large group adjudicated events, and travel around the community, region, and state giving performances. Our students are hard working, dedicated, passionate, and invested. I have never encountered such special students before. In regards to my teaching style, I have high expectations and push students to be the best they can be. I commonly tell students to never settle and to always have a growth mindset. We use lots of kinaesthetic gestures in class and are consistently learning literacy skills. Our main objectives in the choral program are for students to become independent, lifelong choral musicians and supporters of the arts.”

How has choir changed over the past couple of years beyond the obvious things like masks and social distancing?

“These last few years have definitely been challenging for music educators. I am grateful that East Holmes Local Schools has allowed our fine arts department to keep music education propelling forward during these challenging years. Our administration truly understands the value of the arts and created a balanced and consistent approach to athletics and arts over the past few years. Students in our district were singing and continually provided with performance experiences, even if it looked a bit different. Overall, I think it has exposed how deeply important choir and music education are in the lives of young people. Choir requires full engagement of your body, mind, and soul, and these types of experiences were lost over the past couple of years. Students NEED choir, and we need to get back to fully providing students with high quality and normal choral experiences across the state and country. The longer we delay and create barriers, the more people at large will forget the life changing experiences and importance of why we do what we do.”

Is there anything you’ve learned over the past couple of years that you didn’t expect?

“As challenging as the past couple of years have been, it truly taught me many things and shaped me as a teacher and human. It also provided the opportunity to learn, grow, reflect, and analyze my life and role as an educator. The Lord worked strongly in my life over the past few years and provided clarity on the path he has for me. I was able to refocus on the why behind my teaching and also try many new things with the choral and theatre programs.”

What does the future of choir look like in your eyes?

“We need to get back to the roots of the why behind choral music education. Lowell Mason introduced music education in the Boston Public Schools in 1838. What did he use to advocate for this? What did the curriculum look like? What was the ‘why’? I personally think a lot has been lost over the past couple years, and music education is moving in lots of different directions right now. I would like to see the future of choir return to normalcy focused on music education for ALL students, high quality teaching practices, selecting repertoire of a wide variety of eras/genres/styles that specifically fit the educational needs of students, and the joy of singing in a group without fear. We need to be together, we need choral singing, and our youth need high quality arts experiences.”

"We need to be together, we need choral singing, and our youth need high quality arts experiences." Click To Tweet

What does music education mean to you?

“Music education has helped to shape who I am today. I am not sure where I would be today without all of my choir, band, and theatre experiences from K-12 and the investment of all the music teachers in my life. There is simply nothing that can compare to the feeling of singing in a choral ensemble. Think back to your experiences in choir, band, orchestra, and theatre growing up. What do you remember? How did it shape you? Do you still remember the feelings and emotions of singing or playing a powerful piece? I remember a plethora of these emotions and feelings. It is truly incredible how the experiences, feelings, emotions, and music stays with you throughout the course of your life. Music education shapes and transforms lives. It allows students to work collaboratively in a group setting where every student and voice is essential at all times. We are teaching so many categories of skills and lessons in music education. We connect with students in such different ways than other educational disciplines. Music is for a lifetime, and we are planting seeds on a daily basis and providing students with skills, passion, joy, inspiration, and the love of music.”

"Music is for a lifetime, and we are planting seeds on a daily basis and providing students with skills, passion, joy, inspiration, and the love of music." Click To Tweet

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