Two summers ago AMP Advisory Board member, Dr. Marilyn Seelman, and I were conducting interviews for the position of Atlanta Music Project Violin Teaching Artist. This was our first time filling the position and we were both aware of the importance of it. The violins would make up the biggest instrument section of our program and the progress of our orchestra would rest on the ability of our Violin Teaching Artist to get our young violinists learning and advancing quickly.
Along came Ms. Elizabeth Oladele (now Adebayo!). Recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelors Degree in Music Performance (violin) and Education, she had all the right credentials. She was also a graduate of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program. The only thing she lacked was “2 years+ experience.”
However, Elizabeth nailed her interview and understood exactly what the Atlanta Music Project was about. Dr. Seelman and I decided that we would overlook her relative inexperience and hire her because she showed tremendous potential and a real devotion to her students and her craft. We took a risk that Elizabeth would learn and adapt on the fly. And boy were we right on this one.
Elizabeth started as AMP’s first Violin Teaching Artist in the fall of 2010. She gracefully handled any situation that was thrown her way: irregular attendance, unruly kids, broken instruments, lack of materials, beginner students mixed with advanced students. It didn’t matter what the issue was, she always found a few to get through it.
To be honest, sometimes when I’d check in on her class, I was thankful I wasn’t in her position. The challenges that Elizabeth faced during the first few months of the Atlanta Music Project were so great that at first, I’d often wonder how in the world we would put concerts together. But little by little, as the weeks went by and I continued to check in, her students started to improve: better posture, better bow holds, more left hand fingerings, more melodies and more smiles. This progress was always amazing to watch unfold.
Elizabeth often arrived early and stayed late to help students individually. She always encouraged her students even when they gave up and thought they couldn’t do it anymore. And by the time concerts rolled around, the violins were always ready. Looking back on it, we couldn’t have made a better hire.
For those of you who have to hire teaching artists for your El Sistema-inspired programs, there is no doubt in my mind: for this kind of work, it is far more important for the potential candidate to have an excellent understanding of the mission and a passion for working with children than it is to have a bunch of fancy credentials. In my opinion, all the experience in the world might not save you when things get difficult. However, ingenuity, preparedness and a belief that all your students are worth it, just might.
Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth was quickly offered a full-time job teaching music in the DeKalb County Public Schools in the fall of 2011. However, she continued to teach with the Atlanta Music Project at our second site in the Edgewood neighborhood. Most recently, she led our combined Gilbert House and Coan Recreation Center orchestra at our May 19 Spring Concert. As per usual, she and were students were fantastic.
This summer Elizabeth got married, at a beautiful ceremony that I was privileged to attend. Sadly, Elizabeth will be leaving the Atlanta Music Project to begin her new life with her husband John in Boston. I know they both have a bright future ahead of them, whatever they choose to do with it. So congratulations to John and Elizabeth!
I’d like to thank Elizabeth for her service to the Atlanta Music Project. Her students, fellow teaching artists and I will miss her! Good luck Elizabeth!