Since joining the faculty of Real School in 2012, Heather Luhn has filled many roles. After starting as a violin instructor, Heather moved to Director of String Instruction, Director of Yamaha Music Education, and serving on the Faculty Leadership Team, often all at the same time!
Now she’s on to her newest and biggest challenge. Learn more about Real School’s new Director of Education.
The following article is an installment of our Faculty Spotlight series, which highlights the stories and experiences of Real School instructors.
Violin and Viola Instructor Heather Luhn, Real School of Music, Andover and Burlington, MA
Congratulations on being named to the newly created role of Director of Education! What are some of your goals and aspirations for this position?
Heather: I'm honored to be named Real School’s first Director of Education! In this role I hope to assess, develop, and inspire faculty of all instruments to continue learning on a personal and professional level through sharing, presenting, and collaborating in professional development settings. I look forward to challenging the level of education offered at Real School and nurturing the students through the continued learning and inspiration of our faculty.
At what age did you begin music lessons? What instrument did you start on and where did you take lessons?
Heather: I began private violin lessons in fourth grade, age 10, soon after I joined the school's strings program. I went to school in Bloomington, IL. Although this was my first experience taking private lessons, I'd been singing and playing handbells among other instruments through my church youth program from a very young age.
Did you play in your school orchestra, band, choir, or other school-sponsored music group?
Heather: Yes, I played with the Bloomington High School (BHS) Orchestra and the BHS Pit Orchestra. I also participated in the Illinois Music Education Association (IMEA) festival and Solo and Ensemble Competition.
Who were your favorite music teachers and why?
Heather: Mr. Eggleston, the orchestra director at Illinois Wesleyan University, where I attended college. He was strict, held you to a very high expectation, but also balanced his sternness out with a personal and nurturing side. He pushed me to be a strong leader.
Who were some of your early musical heroes and inspirations?
Heather: I don't really have names, but when I went to Chamber Music Camp during the summers in junior high, the college-age counselors would perform for us and at that time, I thought they were SO amazing! I wanted to play the same music they did!
What is your favorite early musical memory?
Heather: The first time I participated in district festival orchestra, I remember the music was too hard for me. I practiced, but struggled to keep up with the group. When we performed, the energy was so amazing I forgot about all the notes I missed!
Heather: I applied to Real School because it was different than all the other schools I was applying to in the area. The contemporary feel intrigued me; even though it felt out of my comfort zone and I thought there was no way this contemporary school would hire a classically trained violinist like me, I thought it was worth a shot!
What do you like best about working here?
Heather: I like working here because I have freedom to practice the craft of teaching. I love all the families, students, and teachers I have met over time. Every single faculty member here is amazingly talented in their own way. The families that come here are the best! I've had a lot of fun teaching and learning in this environment. It's pushed me out of my comfort zone and continued to inspire me to continue pursuing other styles and instruments!
How has playing and teaching music made a positive impact on your life?
Heather: Music, whether playing or teaching, does calm me down when my mind is busy or stressed. I love getting lost in any kind of music and giving myself a little challenge to overcome. I enjoy the personalities and quirks of every student that comes in my room. Each student has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and the best part about private lessons is I can bend our material toward the interests of each student. No two lessons are the same; it keeps me on my toes and makes each day different! My students are the highlight of my week.
What are some of your most memorable teaching experiences so far?
Heather: When I taught a group string class my first year at Real School, we played a game called "hide the bow." We hid a student's bow somewhere in the room, and when that student came in to look for the bow, the group had to play soft until the seeker was close to the hiding place, then we played really loud. It teaches dynamic awareness in a very fun way.
This particular student's bow was hidden in another student's boot! It was so funny and discreet that everyone, one by one, started laughing so hard they couldn't play anymore. For some reason, that was so funny everyone was laughing for about 5 minutes and no one could play to finish the game. It was such a silly but great bonding moment for the group of kids and me!
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are looking to develop their skills?
Heather: Goal-oriented practice is the most important. I try to help my students make goals and meet them in and out of their lessons. While this is a hard thing to learn at a young age, it is so important as you age and the music becomes more difficult. Efficient practicing is better than hours and hours of mundane practicing. I don't think I learned this until grad school!
What advice would you give to parents or caregivers?
Heather: Sometimes you're having a bad day and you don't want to practice; practice anyway. Shake it up a bit and play something old that you already know.
Sometimes you get frustrated and want to quit; don't quit! Take a break and come back to it after you have a snack or play outside. Sometimes you just need a little breather.
Join a group! This can be an ensemble, orchestra, band, choir, anything! Playing with other people who are also learning helps motivate you to practice and get better. You're always going to have people who are better than you and who are worse than you, but you need to learn how to play with them and it is SO MUCH FUN!
What are your future plans? What are your career and/or musical goals?
Heather: I plan to continue to hone the craft of teaching. I'd like to help other teachers teach and share their ideas, whether it's across different instruments or just in the string family. I love being able to expose my classical students to other genres, so I'm always looking for ways to push that boundary. Although I don't aspire to be a professional performer, I do aspire to learn other instruments and just share the love of continued learning to my students and peers.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of Real School?
Heather: I enjoy walking my dog, exploring new trails and parks in the area, visiting my family in the Midwest, and volunteering for the Salvation Army when I'm able.
Are you actively performing in an ensemble, bands, or projects?
Heather: Yes, I play with the Melrose Symphony Orchestra. This season is the orchestra’s 99th year.
If you weren't playing and teaching music, what would you be doing?
Heather: I have a degree in Hispanic Studies because I love learning other languages. I guess I would be working in the field of language, whether that be a Spanish teacher, a translator, and linguist, or someone who travels the world to teach English! I do love traveling, so that could be fun. :)
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