An Interview with David Starnes on Mind the Gap and the Importance of Mentorship
Tuesday, February 02, 2021

An Interview with David Starnes on Mind the Gap and the Importance of Mentorship

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David Starnes is Director of Orchestras at Kennesaw Mountain H.S. in Kennesaw, GA, and an Educational Consultant for Music for All. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread in 2020, David worked with Music for All and co-moderator Susan Smith to develop Mind the Gap, a webinar/podcast series for young and future music educators.

With a wide and varied 32-year career as an educator, we asked David to share his thoughts on the Mind the Gap series, the topics they cover, and why he shares his time and expertise with fellow and future music educators.

What is Mind the Gap? Who is it for and what is it aiming to do?

 

Mind the Gap was initially created as a supplement for collegiate students who were in the midst of their student teaching during the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 interrupted their college education. With support from the Music for All Education team, Susan Smith and I recognized the “gap” and instantly went to work. Our mission was to create a program to supplement, inspire, and educate our future music educators while offering them timely information that was missed due to a shortened student teaching experience. Since the initial concept, we have broadened the offering and audience for teachers serving in their first five years of the profession. Additionally, collegiate professors are including these episodes as supplemental material to their secondary instrumental methods courses.

 

What is your role with Mind the Gap?

I primarily serve as a moderator for each episode while selecting our guest panelists and creating the content for each discussion. On occasion, I have served as a panelist, sharing ideas and my teaching experience on any given topic. [Co-moderator] Susan Smith and I carefully discuss and select the topics for each episode. With only a one-hour time slot, we inevitably tackle topics that could span several hours! Pinpointing the goal and desired outcome of each episode when featuring world-class names in music education presents a real challenge. It is our hope each attendee would experience a sampling of the topic at hand, which would further inspire them to seek additional knowledge of how the information can affect their situation. Programming each episode really becomes a task of satisfying the specific needs of many while offering unexpected revelations for each audience member…moderators included!

What are some of your favorite topics and guests you’ve had so far, and why?

Our goal was to provide a variety of topics to address the most pertinent issues a teacher could face in their first years of teaching. Due to the stipulations and guidelines COVID-19 created for teachers, I believe the episodes addressing technology and teaching in a virtual environment have been the most valuable. As a 32-year veteran teacher, I found myself re-tooling my own toolbox that had become tried and true. I quickly realized no blueprint to this teaching model had ever existed and while frustrating, the teaching profession was making history as we reinvented our craft. Personally, it has been a challenge as well as a reward to be able to share ideas with young teachers while actually experiencing their roadblocks on a daily basis. Having been a mentor to young teachers for several years, I am reminded daily of the importance of passing the torch as well as providing inspiration and motivation for them. While it is easy to complain about the pandemic hand we’ve been dealt, I chose to believe we can grow and rebrand music education in a way that will challenge the next generation of teachers AND students.

Why is Mind the Gap and the information it provides important?

In normal circumstances, young teachers are usually left to fend for themselves, relying only on the skills and strategies they were taught as an undergraduate student. Knowing our current teaching environment is unprecedented, young teachers need an outlet for discovery, idea-sharing, and networking within the professional teaching community. Each episode of “Mind the Gap” features leaders from the worlds of music education and the music industry. Our audience has “VIP access” and a front-row ticket to the most innovative professionals in the world. From the beginning, it was our intent to provide an experience to not only educate young teachers but connect them in the most realistic way to their profession. In doing so, we had the potential to motivate and inspire through actual association with individuals who once were only iconic names to them. “Mind the Gap” is a first-hand, relevant experience pertinent to the success of every young music educator.

Is mentorship between music educators important?

It has long been my belief that students who enter the teaching profession do so as a reaction to the inspiration they once received from a teacher in their past. Teaching is a profession that “pays it forward” on a daily basis. Naturally, teachers are mentors as it is the sheer definition of our job title and what we are charged to provide for each of our students. As music educators, our curriculum becomes an even greater inspiration. Dedicating our lives to education is only the entry point of why we chose this profession. For many of us, MUSIC allows us to share our mind and spirit with students and professionals. The intangibility of our artform connects us through emotional responses that not only trigger creativity but also provide a lifetime of memories for all who are so fortunate to experience its magic. Teaching, learning, and mentoring are all “active” forms of what we do as well as the electricity behind our passion. It’s just too powerful and special not to share it with the world. Some of my fondest mentor/mentee memories involve feeling or seeing the musical lightbulb illuminate. Whether in a student or a peer, that spark allowed someone else an experience that led us to music education. 

 

You are an Educational Consultant for Music for All. Why have you given of your time and experience to create the Mind the Gap series, as well as to provide guidance to Music for All for all of its programs?

Speaking of a topic that could “span for several hours…” Where shall I dare begin? Music for All has been a constant motivation of excellence for me, my students, parents, and community for over 30 years. Having taught at the elementary, middle, high school, and collegiate levels in band and orchestra, I am absolutely aware of the experience students receive through their affiliation with this incredible organization. Music for All’s mission to “create, provide, and expand positively life-changing experiences through music for all” is why I have dedicated so many years as a teacher and consultant to this organization. In my opinion, Music for All is where the professional and student worlds intersect. I have been privileged to offer students associated with Music for All the opportunity to work with world-class performers, conductors, and in once-in-a-lifetime performance experiences. There is nothing more satisfying than living vicariously through a student participant at a Music for All event. To me, it’s really about living and giving through an art form that defines how music can shape the heart and soul of an individual. “Life-changing” would be a rather bold acclamation of purpose if it were not true. I am affiliated with Music for All not only because I know it can change lives, but I am living proof that it does.

Do you have any favorite or most-memorable moments from your experiences with Music for All as an educator?

Prior to my role as an Educational Consultant, I was a participating high school band director at Music for All events. As the founding director at Kennesaw Mountain High School, I witnessed the motivation and inspiration Music for All played in our program for the 11 years I served as director. This organization taught my students what was possible on a national level as a high school music education student. Through my students’ involvement, Music for All inspired teamwork, individual challenge while fostering leadership, example, and the importance of managing life skills through both success and disappointment. I believe my “favorite moment” lies under the umbrella of every Kennesaw Mountain High School or Western Carolina University band member who experienced the magic of a Bands of America Regional or Grand National Championships. Whether a competitive or exhibition performance, the goal was exactly the same. EXCEED your individual best because you knew you were performing WITH the best. Music for All continually inspires excellence and celebrates achievement, unlike any other scholastic musical organization. A Music for All “stage” invites everyone, regardless of experience or ability. Through peer support, everyone wins. Character is established. Expectations are defined. Communities unite. Barriers are removed.

Through my involvement with this organization, my students and parents quickly learned how music education was the common denominator among our love for this activity and organization. In these ever-challenging times in our world, Music for All continues to provide positive inspiration to directors, students, and parents. In a nutshell, we are teaching life skills through perseverance, resilience, and hope. Is it any coincidence that Music for All’s mission echoes these sentiments and more? Simply stated the world needs music education and music education needs Music for All!

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