Men's Choir, Gospel Choir, Bel Canto, Honor Choir, Alumni Chorale, Women's Choir, Guest Conductor, Master of Music Education... all this much before you got to Graded. What are you involved in at Graded?
I'm now doing a few more things that I love just as much. I have an unusual position in that I'm one of the few teachers who teaches all three divisions. In the Lower School, I teach grade 5 music with my teaching buddy Gian Aquino. In Middle School, I teach grade 6 choir and the junior choir. Lastly, in High School, I direct the senior choir (grades 9-12, mixed voices) and TRebels (grades 9-12, treble voices). I love it! I get to be involved with students of so many different ages and stages, which in choral music is fun because of how their voices change from childhood to adolescence.
When and how did you decide that music, and particularly choral music, was the direction your professional life was going to take?
I have always loved to sing. My mom told me how I sang as a young child (just like I do now, from the top of my lungs). I studied music in college, but I never set my sights on becoming a teacher. I was writing and singing a lot of pop songs, and I wanted to pursue that. However, when I realized how much work, dedication, and rejection it would entail and how time-consuming it would be, I became a substitute teacher instead to help pay the bills. That was the first time I got excited about teaching kids, and I just fell in love with it. Once I was hooked, it was clear to me that I not only loved music but also loved teaching kids to love it, too.
What popular song have you heard on the radio in the past year or two that you think is truly great?
OK, I am a huge Sara Bareilles fan. She has skills playing the piano. She writes lyrics and music. And her voice! This past summer, I heard her arrangement of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," about which Elton said he'd "never heard anyone sing one of my songs like that, ever." It's a great arrangement, and Sara, in my opinion, improves on Elton John's version (actually, Elton admitted this as well!). Of course, it's a great song already, but Sara draws your attention to the lyrics by giving the song a very spare introduction and builds up until she just kills the high notes, and you're covered in chills. Watch it on YouTube. It has certainly stayed with me.
When was the last time you pushed yourself to your physical limit? Explain.
When each of my three children finished grade 8, I took them on a trip anywhere in the world they wanted to go. In 2014, my youngest chose Peru, and we hiked the Salkantay Trek for five days to Machu Picchu. It was a decent hike, but at 3,000 to 4,600 meters (15,092 feet) up, it's the elevation that can do you in. Of course, the best part about hiking 76 km (45 miles) at that elevation is doing it with your kid! We met some great people from around the world, and it will be a lifelong memory. It didn't push me as much as my four weeks of Shaun T's "Insanity Workout Program," but it was a lot more fun.
Which of the five senses do you treasure most? Why?
Well, certainly I love to eat, and being a singer, I cherish hearing immensely. But if I had to choose which I treasure most, it would be touch. I suppose it's the one that connects us, right? I was raised in a family with German-American roots on my mom's side and Portuguese-American roots on my dad's. So, family gatherings were incredibly different depending on which side of the family we were visiting. My mom's family was very stoic, a bit stiff, hand-shakers, and very solid and reliable. My dad's family was loud, and when you came for a visit, all the aunties stooped down for kisses. I guess my connection with my dad also really imprinted the importance of touch – of a hug. And yes, Brazil suits me well in this regard.
Who's your favorite comedian?
I'm not a huge comedy fan, but it would have to be Trevor Noah. Adorable, smart, interesting, and his book is such a great read (funny too)!
What would you say to people who have never sung in a choir because they believe they can't sing?
This is a great question because it's so central to what I do. Honestly, here's my question: Did you have to learn math even though you weren't good at it? What about English (or Portuguese)? We don't learn things because we're good at them; we're good at them because we learn them. Yes, some people start ahead of the pack because they're born with a natural head start ("talent"). But if I can learn to do math (which I hate), you can learn to sing. So get out there and sing! (Parents and teachers have asked if I'd direct a choir for adults at school, and I said yes, so I'm just waiting for someone to ask me to run a rehearsal.)
What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Wow, there are so many things I love about Graded. I really love the green campus, students' smiling faces, staff, teachers, and parents. I love the Arts Center and its music rooms. But I think my favorite thing about Graded is the interesting lives of all the people here. There are students from all around the world. As someone who loves to travel and is interested in foreign cultures, I find the exposure to so many people from so many different places fascinating – invigorating, really. I love how I've picked up an interest in Korean culture and language from my students, which I didn't have before coming here. I also enjoy how Brazilians have these wonderful stories and recipes and how they use language so expressively. In addition, I find it interesting to see how Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, and other English-speaking people share a common language, but not necessarily common experiences. It can be cliché, but it really is the people at Graded that make it fascinating and, for me, a wonderful place to be. I totally enjoy teaching here.