Storm Ziegler ’94: Using music to teach life

Storm Ziegler ’94

Major: Choral conducting/music education

Bio: Director of Choral Activities/Chairman of Performing Arts, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kennedy High School (Kennedy’s show choir, Happiness, Inc., was named Grand Champion at over 20 competitions nationwide and Ziegler twice received the Outstanding Director Award at Show Choir Nationals)

“Inherent in the block plan is the notion of looking deeper. When you only have to focus on one class or topic at a time, you learn to look beyond the surface to see the subtext of learning and of life.”

Although I am a music teacher, I tell people that I really teach “life,” and music is my teaching tool. There is so much we can learn about the human condition by studying, preparing, and performing music. The music classroom remains a place where students learn valuable and relevant skills that improve the quality of their lives and society as a whole.

Music students learn how to collaborate, how to plan for a long term goal, how to delay gratification, how to lead and follow, how to accept and incorporate criticism, how to win and lose, and the power of changing hearts and minds. My students learn how to use music to make themselves and their audiences feel. The historical and emotional lessons music study provides creates empathy in audiences and performers alike. Music is a language that brings people from distant lands and differing beliefs together. If we can sing together, we can find a way to do anything together.

I entered Cornell planning to major in economics, then moved through history, politics, and philosophy majors. The whole time, I sang in choir and took voice lessons just for fun. One day in a choir rehearsal I was rather loudly expressing my frustration with how a rehearsal was going. Dr. Andy Fowler asked me if I thought I could do a better job running the rehearsal. As every arrogant, overconfident college student would do, I said I could! Dr. Fowler invited me up to run the rest of rehearsal, which I turned into a train wreck. To his credit, Dr. Fowler turned that day into an incredible learning opportunity for me by offering to teach an independent study course in how to prepare a score and run a rehearsal.

Fast forward to Dr. Lisa Hearne’s tenure as director. She allowed me to direct a women’s choir under her guidance. By being a “big fish” in Cornell’s “small pond,” I was afforded experience and individualized education that I would not have received anywhere else.

I hope my students, colleagues, family, and friends will think of me as an honest, hard-working, loyal person who had an optimistic view of the potential in others. I hope people see me as someone who champions honest intellectual discourse in the battlefield of ideas. Mostly, I hope my former students, at least every now and then, get out their phones and listen to a Poulenc motet or Bach chorale … and marvel at the beauty and genius of choral music.

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