11 Feb A Mentor’s Mentor: by Heather Phillips
Hello ArtSmart supporters and followers! My name is Heather Phillips and I am an opera singer, voice teacher and mentor with the ArtSmart program. I am so thrilled to be teaching and mentoring with ArtSmart at The Franklin Learning Center in Philadelphia this year. I have been working with these students since the start of the 2017-2018 school year, and they have already shown such growth and improvement, not only in their music and performance skills but in their individual abilities to remain focused, motivated and driven. I am so looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring for their development.
I’m sure at some point you will get to hear from the students themselves about their mentorship experience or see their progress via video or writings from our social media channels. However for this blog entry, I want to take the opportunity to share with you all how a musical mentorship experience from my childhood had a profound effect on my life and how that experience continues to influence and inspire me in my current job as a mentor.
I grew up in North Canton, Ohio and I started taking piano lessons when I was in 1st grade. I was lucky enough to take lessons with a woman named Carol Singer. Not only was she a piano teacher, but she was also the chair of the outreach department for the McDowell Music Club of Canton, Ohio. After I began developing my piano skills, she offered me my first chance at performing through the music club’s outreach program. Under the guidance of her mentorship, I began to perform not only piano solos, but my other musical disciplines, voice and flute as well. I performed at church’s, assisted living facilities and nursing homes across the county as a volunteer performer. Not only did my performing and music skills grow, but it was the first opportunity for me as a young child to put myself in front of an audience. As a naturally shy kid, this was extremely important to the early development of my confidence and self-esteem. At any given concert I would perform my voice, flute and piano solos as well as duets with my piano teacher, which not only aided in the growth of my self-confidence, but also taught me how to multi-task at an early age. As the years went on, I found myself doing better in school and having more confidence in other areas of my scholastic studies. Mrs. Singer also invited other professional musicians to perform with us from the Canton Symphony Orchestra at these outreach programs, which eventually led to my involvement as a flautist with the Canton Youth Symphony Orchestra. The opportunity to become a member of the youth symphony led to my first exposure to the opera during an annual arts field trip that the youth symphony organized. The opera was Madame Butterfly and after seeing that performance, my love for the art form of opera was born.
Mrs. Singer’s mentorship not only led to my eventual career in opera and served as a fundamental building block in the foundation of my confidence, but it also opened my eyes to the power of music at a very young age. The majority of our outreach performances were at assisted living and nursing homes for the elderly, most whom were nearing the end of their lives and suffered many physical ailments that disabled them from leaving their resident buildings. So, we brought the music to them. The amount of joy that live music gave them was extremely evident for me to see, even as a young adolescent. It was my first glimpse of how powerful music can be in someone’s life and it gave me a significant reason to share my musical talents with others.
Music gave meaning to my life at such an early age. It taught me self-discipline, confidence, multi-tasking, goal setting and gave me a sense of how I could significantly contribute to my community. The benefits that have come from having a musical mentor early on in my life are endless to list, and that is why I am extremely passionate about my responsibility to pass along these life lessons through my mentorship with ArtSmart. Every time I teach a voice or piano lesson, I think back to when I was that student’s age and how instrumental my musical mentor was in my life. I think about how important it is to inspire my students to be courageous with their talents, just like Mrs. Singer did with me. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity and responsibility to help the ArtSmart students on their developmental journey and to continue to expose them to the wonderful world of the arts. My life has been extremely enriched because of an early exposure to music from a mentor, and it makes me so excited to think how the ArtSmart program will enrich the lives of so many young students.